Missing persons services at risk as funding is slashed

National charity to lose all its government cash as police admit their work on the issue will also be hit

George Osborne's multibillion-pound spending cuts threaten to sever a national "lifeline" that helps tens of thousands of missing people and the families they leave behind.

Britain's biggest missing persons charity has been plunged into crisis after ministers confirmed it will lose all of its £500,000 government funding. Missing People, which helps more than 100,000 callers a year, warns that the cut will cause "catastrophic" damage to its work supporting "mispers", runaways and their families.

And MPs have warned that efforts to find the 275,000 Britons who disappear every year will be further hindered by a threat to the sole state body focused exclusively on locating missing people. The UK Missing Persons Bureau is part of the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), one of the organisations earmarked for closure amid the cull of quangos last month. Ministers admit they have not decided where – or whether – the bureau's work will be continued.

The confusion has also cast a shadow over the chances of identifying the bodies of almost 1,000 people found in the UK over the past 50 years.

The "dismantling of the missing persons infrastructure" has provoked concern for a function that has traditionally been regarded as a low police priority. The Police Federation last night confirmed that the search for missing people would inevitably be hit by a reordering of priorities in the face of cuts.

The warnings come only days after the parents of Madeleine McCann complained that the British authorities were not helping them to find their daughter, who disappeared from a Portuguese resort in 2007.

"Withdrawing funding from the only 24-hour missing persons charity without saying how they are going to invest in the future has made a precarious situation one that threatens to be catastrophic," said Martin Houghton-Brown, Missing People's chief executive.

The charity, whose website carries thousands of photographs and case details, claims that it "directly reconnected" 450 UK families with a missing relative last year, while "countless more" were indirectly helped.

An Independent on Sunday investigation last year found the charity's volunteers and staff were struggling to cope. It was demanding that a government department take responsibility for the issue, more co-operation between statutory agencies and, crucially, more resources. But it is now set to lose a £350,000 annual grant from the Home Office and £150,000 from the Department for Education, which helps to maintain a runaways helpline.

Missing People's staff have attempted to play down the damage presented by the cuts, partly due to fears that it could undermine the confidence of the charity's private backers.

But MPs maintain that cutting more than £80bn from Government spending over four years threatens to close both organisations. Labour MP Ann Coffey, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said: "The very core of the front-line missing persons services is under threat."

She added: "Instead of removing the missing persons infrastructure, we must maintain investment and underpin it with new legislation that supports existing services and does much-needed filling in of gaps."

A Home Office spokeswoman said last night: "We are looking at what improvements can be made if existing agencies work together and share resources more effectively."

And a spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The voluntary sector cannot be immune from reductions in public expenditure."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power