The first systematic review of the real impact of public spending cuts on local authorities is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation today (26 January). It finds that the most deprived local authorities have been hardest hit by the cuts. It also finds conflict within local authorities over whether the needs of vulnerable people should be prioritised.
Serving deprived communities in a recession looked at 25 local authorities and provides an early insight into how local government in England is coping with the severe contraction in grant income implemented after the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review. It finds a strong likelihood that the contraction of local government service provision will be felt differently across England. Analysis of the patterns of spending cuts show greater cuts (in both proportionate and absolute terms) in the most deprived authorities, compared with the most affluent.
The report also points to conflict over whether the needs of vulnerable people should be prioritised. Only half the sample had adopted 'protecting the needs of the most vulnerable client or communities' as a principle guiding budgetary decision-making and just two suggested that 'protecting deprived neighbourhoods' was a priority.
The report suggests that the consequences of the cuts for disadvantaged people in the poorest areas will also quite possibly be overlooked. Local authorities are struggling to assess the impact of the cuts they make to services, due to lack of capacity. The authors believe that the cuts made by local government in future should be monitored to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people are addressed.
Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “This report is part of our programme looking at how disadvantaged people and places are coping in this time of austerity. This report finds that vulnerable people are being hit with the double impact of faster cuts, and lack of protection. While we accept that local authorities need to make spending cuts, it is essential that people in communities that are already struggling do not suffer more than others."
Researchers also found that the most deprived authorities lost most spending power, especially in the first year, while some affluent areas faced only mild initial cuts. The front-loading of the cuts, the failure to target the needs of deprived authorities, and the design of the system all ensured that deprived authorities suffered harsher cuts.
Glen Bramley, author of the report, said: "This report highlights that the poorest people in society are being affected more than anyone by local government cuts. Despite some services used by all groups being significantly reduced, the impact of service provision cuts will fall more heavily on disadvantaged people who rely on public services. Unlike the more well-off, they are less able to supplement the loss of public services (such as childcare, libraries and youth clubs) with private provision."