8,000 ‘special needs’ children facing crisis with £6m Tower Hamlets funding gap
PUBLISHED: 17:00 19 September 2019
The cost of looking after 8,000 children and young people in the East End who have special education needs or disabilities has reached crisis point with a £6million gap opening up.
Tower Hamlets has received almost £50m from the government to pay for special services — but has had to spend £56m in the past 12 months to run them, it has emerged.
The council has now voted overwhelmingly to call on the government to make sure funding "keeps pace" with rising demand.
"The funding crisis has serious implications for some of the most vulnerable children," cabinet member Danny Hassell told councillors. "They need and deserve support services that are properly paid for."
Councillors called on the mayor to write to the education secretary urging him to "bring the funding crisis to an end".
A funding announcement by Whitehall was welcome, but councillors say the government "needs to go further" to make sure the gap is filled.
Mayor John Biggs said: "The East End is on the frontline of London's funding crisis, with 8,000 children and young people who have special needs and disabilities or learning in alternative education.
"We welcome extra cash from the government, but need a much larger investment with solid details rather than vague spending pledges."
The government has pledged £700m for children with special needs across London, but this still leaves gaps, council members stressed.
The gaps could hit £1.6bn by 2021, well over double what the government has promised for the next two years, according to estimates by the Local Government Association.
Cllr Hassell recently led on a cross-party letter from 26 London boroughs to the education secretary calling for "an end to the crisis", warning that a "tipping point" had now been reached.
Many local authorities across London like Tower Hamlets have been able to meet the shortfall from cash reserves or by under-spending on other education services.
But this is no longer an option with education budgets now being squeezed, council members point out.
The government, meanwhile, announced earlier this month that it was looking into the way children with special needs are supported, offering a ray of hope to ease the financial burden on town halls.