Speech by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, on 'An Analysis of Public Expenditure on Children in Northern Ireland' at the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, 3rd July 2007.

Can I add my words of thanks to all of you for coming here today to the launch of what I believe is a landmark for children and young people – the first time we have ever had a comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom; the first time we can say definitively how much we value children and young people.

And that is at the core of the statistics and tables in this report. It’s not about the cash value. It’s not about the money we spend – they are the symptom. When services fail children and young people; when services work for young people – these are when we can measure value.

Since I took up post in Jan I have come across services that fail to meet their needs. When that happens we as a society are delivering a clear message to children and young people that we do not value them enough to meet those needs.

A child of 5 in need of speech and language therapy cannot wait two years for resources, measures, task forces, meetings and budget rounds. Each week without therapy is a week’s development lost.

A teenage boy in desperation and depressed cannot wait for procedures, policies and investment – he needs help now.

A learning disabled child kept apart from her family because there are no community places being funded will not understand why a review has been delayed over social services spending – her family will only understand that we do not value them enough to make a difference.

My predecessor Nigel Williams the First Children’s Commissioner Nigel Williams, on several occasions, expressed concern that the outcome of the 2005 priorities and budget process might have negative implications on children’s services in Northern Ireland.

Nigel was concerned that it was not known how the Northern Ireland funding provision for children and young people compared to the rest of the UK. There was no analysis available that would show the differences. That is why we at NICCY were delighted to co-operate with OFMDFM and the Department of Finance and Personnel to commission this landmark report.

A report which provides the detail so that we can analyse the symptoms I referred to earlier.

Children’s and young people’s services are provided through different funding structures in Northern Ireland relative to the rest of the UK and the recording of expenditure is treated differently. And that’s not just because we like to do things differently!

The integrated healthcare system operating in Northern Ireland makes it difficult to isolate who benefits from investment. For this reason Nigel initiated this research into expenditure into children’s services in Northern Ireland

The aim of this research was to conduct an in depth study comparing Government funding in the Northern Ireland for children and young people with the funding in the UK.

It was to assess how children and young people in greatest need have benefited in comparison to their counterparts in the rest of the UK. The research looked at spending in health, education, housing and benefits.

As a result of many different factors the health sector in Northern Ireland is under greater pressure than elsewhere in the UK.

Higher need combined with proportionally more children and a greater degree of rural areas suggests that per capita expenditure should be higher in Northern Ireland than in other regions of the UK.

Figures however show that is not the case; spending on children’s services is significantly lower in Northern Ireland.

27.3% of the population of Northern Ireland are children, yet only 14.1% of budget for personal and a social service is spent on children’s services. This is a shocking finding of today’s report.

The research also found that Northern Ireland has the lowest spend per child on children’s services in comparison to the other regions of the UK. Scotland spends 44% more per child than Northern Ireland.

Clear differentials exist in spending on health between Northern Ireland and the other regions of the UK.

In the absence of information on outcomes and meeting needs, we recommend, that in the interests of equity, Northern Ireland spending per child should be on par with the other regions.

We must also acknowledge that we are a post-conflict society. This must be taken into account when allocating resources.

We should note that 2002 Government overview of Health and Social Care Needs and Effectiveness Evaluation showed that expenditure in England is 35% higher on social services than Northern Ireland despite higher need and proportionately more children.

The Assembly needs to carry out further research as to why spending on social services in Northern Ireland is so low.

In addition the policy vacuum when compared with developments in England and Wales following Every Child Matters, added to the underinvestment in a range of preventative and care initiatives has meant inequities between children across the jurisdictions. It would be NICCY’s strong recommendation that this imbalance is now redressed with the restoration of devolution.

However, we mustn’t wait on the outcomes of reviews to act. As I said earlier, children and young people lives are passing by…

As you might expect spending on children and young people in Trust areas with greater levels of child poverty is higher, as a greater level of services will be required in areas of high social deprivation.

But we need to know if the money spent is meeting current needs in these areas. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety should undertake an audit of existing spending within the new Trusts to assess if the needs of children and young people in Northern Ireland are being met in all Trust areas.

Demographic changes in Northern Ireland have resulted in declining numbers of school age children, a trend which looks set to continue.

This is an issue that Department of Education will have to consider in planning future school provision and budgets allocations.

Funding is allocated to schools on the basis of need, therefore additional money is given to schools in socially deprived areas, with pupils who have additional needs.

Funding for individual schools depends on the percentage of pupils entitled to free schools meals. In comparison to other regions in the UK, Northern Ireland has a higher rate of pupils eligible for free school meals.

In Board areas such as Belfast with high social deprivation and greater funding per pupil there still remains a problem with educational attainment.

It is apparent from the report that directing funding towards schools teaching children from economically disadvantaged area is not eliminating the effects of socio-economic inequalities on educational attainment.

Therefore further research needs to be commissioned into inequalities in educational attainment.

It is clear that the current policy is failing pupils from socially deprived backgrounds and therefore a change in policy is needed.

While NI compares favourably to other UK regions when comparing some aspects educational attainment - 54% of pupils achieving five or more grades A*-C in GCSE - it must be acknowledged that 37% of school leavers failed to achieve this in 2004/05.

The Department of Education should examine expenditure levels, strategy, targets and policy to see where changes can be made, to improve attainment outcomes for pupils in Northern Ireland. 

We need to eradicate the gap that exists between those who achieve and those who leave school without any formal qualifications; this is a clear challenge for Department of Education, which should involve looking at international best practise.

Inequalities should not exist in educational attainment; clearly targeting resources at schools in socially deprived areas is not achieving the desired outcomes.

Spending on special needs in 2005/06 amounted to £179m in Northern Ireland.

With additional funding of £53m which was made available to deliver services.

However, there is no assessment of expenditure and how it meets need. The Department of Education needs to measure and evaluate if the expenditure has been spent effectively and if in fact the special education needs of the pupils has been met, in order to assess if greater investment is needed.

Moving on to housing - 20% of all households in NI are in receipt of full housing benefit. It is, however, difficult to establish the proportion of housing benefit which actually benefits children in welfare dependant homes.

On a per capita basis, children in Northern Ireland receive more housing benefit than children in Great Britain.

A regional comparison of homelessness in 2003 found the percentage of households classified as homeless in the UK was worst in Northern Ireland.

Homeless levels in the UK are second highest in Europe, which suggests that Northern Ireland levels of homeless are amongst the highest in EU.

Numbers of people on common waiting list for social housing has continued to grow rapidly; in 2005 over 50% of the housing waiting list was classified as ‘Urgent Need’. Of those 33% are families with children.

Clearly Northern Ireland is facing a major problem in the housing sector, with continued pressure on social housing providers.

While we spend more per child on housing benefit, it is clear that our need is greater. The Department for Social Development should be taking forward plans to develop plans for new social and affordable housing schemes.

Consideration must be given to the differing family demographics and employment rates across the regions, when making comparisons in this area of expenditure.

Benefit and tax credits rules are not a devolved matter and are the same throughout the UK, however as the report shows differing family demographics, employment status and incomes result in varying support received by families.

Children and families receive more child contingent support as income/earnings here are relatively lower than elsewhere in the UK. Low employment rates for single parents in Northern Ireland means they are less likely to benefit from the ‘working tax credit’ support.

The Assembly need to assure equity in the Child Contingent Support system from the Treasury and press for a review of the tax credits system to ensure that families are not placed in financial hardship when faced with paying back an over payment.

I could conclude this with a single statement - Northern Ireland must aim to spend sufficient public money to ensure that the overall well-being of children is maximized subject to competing priorities.

However, I want once again to remind you all that the lives of the 500,000 children and young people my office represents are affected by the decisions you take now these figures are available.

When I meet and talk to children and young people I want to tell them things are getting better. This report shows the gap that this New Government must close to show how must they value our children and young people.