A senior Tory councillor has hit out at claims from a Labour counterpart that benefits cuts are to blame for the increase in Sunderland children going into care.
The Echo reported that the portfolio holder for children and learning at Sunderland City Council, Coun Pat Smith, told the latest cabinet meeting that financial difficulty could be to blame.
Figures from the authority show that 14% more Sunderland children were in care in June compared to last year with an increase from 519 to 591.
Coun Smith called the welfare cuts “a big worry” for children’s safeguarding, and said the cuts “put the fear of God” into her.
However, Conservative group leader, Coun Peter Wood, has now accused her of scare-mongering.
“Pat Smith is more concerned with scaring people and making political points than finding solutions to problems,” he told the Echo.
Pat Smith is more concerned with scaring people and making political points than finding solutions to problemsCoun Peter Wood
“She and her Labour council colleagues should be working constructively with the newly-elected Conservative government to help eliminate child poverty.
“It is regrettable that the number of children in care in the city has increased. In an ideal world there would be no children in care at all.”
Instead Coun Wood called on the council to make the best of the resources it does have for each child in its care.
“Rotherham and reports nearer home have shown that this is not always the case,” he said. “It is not just a question of money.”
He added that eradicating child poverty is a main priory for the new government, so that all young people can have the best start in life.
“The Government’s aim is to tackle the real causes of poverty by improving social mobility – with more people working in each family and increasing educational attainment,” he said.
“The proportion of children in low income households is at its lowest since the 1980s and there are fewer living in workless households – the number has fallen by 387,000 since 2010.
“Pat Smith and her colleagues need to recognise that until we have balanced the nation’s books – i.e. eliminated the record deficit left behind by the Labour government in 2010 – money for public services will continue to be tight.
“Once those books have been balanced, hopefully, more resources can then be made available.
“Instead of scaring people, Pat Smith should be seeking to work with the government to eliminate child poverty. That and ensuring the maximum return for every £1 spent on children’s services in the city.”