The brutal impact of austerity on Scotland’s public services

Scotland’s budget is being slashed by more than £6 billion in real terms.

Scotland’s budget is being slashed by more than £6 billion in real terms

Scotland is not exempt from austerity and it is the most vulnerable who are hardest hit, as services are cut back, jobs go, pay is cut and living standards fall.

UNISON Scotland has published a report, ‘The Cuts Don’t Work: The impact of ‘austerity’ cuts on Scotland’s public services’ – showing what’s really happening to public services across the country.

The report highlights that Scotland’s budget is being slashed by more than £6 billion in real terms. Around 50,000 public sector jobs have already gone with a further 60,000 jobs expected to go over the next five years.

The remaining workforce is also ageing, with the number of young workers falling by a quarter and nearly 40 per cent retiring in the next 10-15 years.On top of cuts to devolved spending, a further £6 billion is being axed from welfare, of which £1 billion relates directly to children.

If this isn’t bad enough, we know that 60 per cent of the total revenue cuts are still to come, with the deepest cuts after the UK and Scottish elections in the period 2016-18.

This is exacerbated by a shift from revenue to capital spending and even that is understated because of ongoing and newer payments for expensive PPP/PFI projects. Yes, despite the rhetoric against PFI, Scotland has a £1.7bn PPP programme and much more in the pipeline.

Although the primary cause is the ConDem cuts to Scotland’s budget allocation, subsequent choices made by the Scottish government, such as the Council Tax freeze, have made the impact worse. Local authorities have taken the brunt of cuts in Scotland and therefore have little choice but to put up charges for services like school meals, burials and cremations, day care and home care rates as they attempt to balance the books.

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The financial cuts are only part of the picture. Public bodies face a range of other spending pressures caused by demographic change, the recession and inflation. As the workforce is cut, the workers that remain are forced to put sticking plasters over services. The much vaunted preventative approach is abandoned in favour of short-term false economy.

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In addition to the numbers and analysis, in this report we use our members’ experiences of the impact of cuts – telling their own stories in their own words.

They tell a story of how the cuts are piling on pressure to overworked, underpaid staff across Scotland including in hospitals, schools, police support staff, colleges and the voluntary sector and it is bringing public services to breaking point. Some of the comments included:

“If I was given the time and energy to apply to the families that I work with I could change their lives forever, but currently we stick plasters on wounds that need stitches.” – Social worker

“Growing workloads are a real problem. We often have to work through breaks, or work late, just to do the job properly and deliver the right level of care.” – Community midwife

“It’s getting worse. I don’t know where it’s going to end, no one cares about the patient or client anymore.” –  Home carer

This report shows the damage cuts do to local communities, local economies and the fabric of our society. They are the result of decisions and choices made at every level of government; local, Scottish and UK.

There is a better way because we can afford public services. Cuts are neither necessary nor inevitable and Scotland could have the properly funded and accountable public services our society needs.

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Dave Watson is the head of Bargaining and Campaigns at UNISON Scotland

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