Record numbers of children are likely to be taken away from their families this year as parents struggle to cope with the effects of public sector cuts and benefits changes, a senior child protection figure has warned.
Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of Cafcass, which safeguards the welfare of children involved in Family Court proceedings, said he expected to see a leap in child neglect cases as thousands of struggling families were pushed over the financial edge in the coming months.
Mr Douglas warned that the number of cases could rise by up to 8 per cent, involving hundreds of children and putting further strain on the child protection system. Cases of "cumulative long-term neglect" were increasing with the removal of small but vital services, such as play schemes and new mothers' groups.
Last year Cafcass dealt with a record number of care applications, including 7,278 cases between April and November – an 8.3 per cent increase on the same period in 2011.
Mr Douglas said: "Given what we know about the association between poverty, deprivation and care, the increase in economic difficulties can take away the margins of support for people who are just managing to keep things together.
"Often quite small amounts of support can make all the difference. So I think that there is a risk of underestimating the way in which this support can keep some families going."
His warning comes amid evidence that the Government's benefits squeeze is hitting public sector professionals just as hard as its professed target – the work-shy and "scroungers".
Figures produced by the Children's Society ahead of a vote in the House of Commons tomorrow over Chancellor George Osborne's sub-inflation rise in benefits and tax credits show that nearly 500,000 nurses, soldiers, and primary and nursery school teachers will see their incomes slashed by the changes.
The Coalition's Bill to cap increases in a catalogue of benefits, including child benefit and tax credits, at 1 per cent until 2015, will cost a lone-parent nurse with two children £424 a year and a junior Army NCO with three children, who earns £470 a week, a total of £552 a year.
A coalition of 27 organisations, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the children's charity Barnardo's, yesterday published an open letter condemning the Bill as a "hardship penalty" on millions of working families. It said: "Families already struggling to pay for food, fuel, rent and other basics will see their budgets further squeezed."
Parents in households where one person earns above £50,000 a year have lost some or all of their right to child benefit. All child benefit will stop if either partner is paid £60,000 or more a year.