Millions wasted on empty secure children’s home beds in England and Wales, says Labour

About £111m of taxpayers’ money has been wasted by the government over a decade on empty secure children’s home beds across England and Wales, Labour has said after an analysis of official statistics.

Data released by the Ministry of Justice between 2010 and 2021 shows growing discrepancies between the number of secure children’s home beds procured, compared with the number of young people placed in them by the Youth Custody Service.

This is despite secure children’s homes being deemed as providing the “highest standards of care and rehabilitation” and despite the crisis of conditions in residential arrangements for young people, which inspectors have warned are deteriorating to “unacceptable” levels.

Secure children’s homes are described by the government as a safe, locked environment for children who “could not be placed safely elsewhere”.

In 2021, more than 48% of beds procured by the MoJ stood empty at a cost to the taxpayer of £14.1m, while HM Inspectorate of Prisons simultaneously reported an increase of violence and self-harm in young offender institutions (HMYOIs), with a 70% increase in violence at HMYOI Cookham Wood in Kent.

An analysis by Labour has examined statistics showing the number of children accommodated in secure children’s homes over 10 years. Calculations of the amount of money spent on each empty bed were an estimation based on the number of empty beds each year versus the cost of each contracted individual place.

Between 2010 and 2021, there were 515 empty secure children’s home beds for the 1,563 places allocated.

Labour says the government must rethink its approach to secure centres for children. Anna McMorrin, the shadow minister for victims and youth justice, said: “Money poured down the drain by this government on empty secure home beds could have been better spent on driving down youth reoffending, improving custody conditions and keeping our communities safe.

“Instead, we are seeing young offenders’ institutions descend into chaos and violence, reoffending rates higher than 10 years ago, and young people getting sucked into more criminal behaviour.”

According to the latest published monthly statistics, there were 2,697 children and young people placed in the youth secure estate at the end of November 2009. At the end of November 2021, there were 515 children in secure children’s homes.

Whitehall sources said the government was obliged to secure extra beds to ensure the welfare of children in its care.

Responding to Labour’s analysis, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “There are 70% fewer children held in custody under this government, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.”

“We need to ensure beds are available in secure children’s homes to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and complex children in custody. Additionally, we are investing £18.5m to help divert more vulnerable children from a life of crime – putting education, healthcare and rehabilitation at the heart of our efforts.”

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