A new report by the Children’s Commissioner for England has revealed that spending on speech and language therapy for children in need of speech and language therapy services (SLT) has fallen throughout the country. The report claims that "children in need are subject to a postcode [zipcode] lottery, creating huge disparities across England of children who are receiving proper provisions." The report is the first of its kind, revealing data to show how much money local areas spend on SLT services.
According to the report, £166m ($211 million) was spent by councils and clinical commissioning groups on SLT services in 2018/29, with £16.35 ($20) spent on each child in the top 25% of areas and 58p ($0.78) spent on each child in the bottom 25% of areas.
Taking into account inflation and population growth, only 23% of areas saw a real terms increase in spend per child while 57% of areas saw a reduction. In addition, only 50% of areas reported that health and local authorities were jointly commissioning services, even though they are expected to do so for children with identified special educational needs. Overall, the majority of spending came from health, with clinical commissioning groups accounting for 69% of the total reported spent.
The report notes, that though the country has had ambitions to reduce the word gap in early years with its Social Mobility Action Plan, it appears that children with speech, language and communication needs are still not being prioritized. According to the latest Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, 114, 822 children are not reaching the expected development levels in communication, and 193,971 children in primary schools have identified speech, language, and communication needs. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience these problems, with 23% of five-year olds eligible for free school meals not meeting the expected levels in speech, language and communication, compared to 13% of those not eligible for free school meals.
The report claims, “Although there is clearly a high level of need, support for these children—including provision of high-quality speech and language therapy, which is known to be a crucial intervention— is not currently enough of a priority. Professionals say the children they work with are either having to wait too long to get help, or are not getting help at all. Recent research has found that about a third of children have to wait over a year to get speech and language therapy. “