New report shows how our public services are feeling the strain

Ahead of spending cuts to be announced on Wednesday, the TUC warns that UK public services are already falling behind


As George Osborne prepares to announce the details of his plans for departmental spending cuts on Wednesday, the TUC is warning that cuts are already undermining public service quality.

The report ‘Making the case for public spending’ was commissioned by the TUC from the Fabian Society, and shows how public spending cuts have led to strained public services, less provision and longer waiting times for key services.

Among the key findings are that:

  • Cuts to adult care services in England resulted in local authorities being able to provide care to over half a million fewer adults (29 per cent) in 2013 than in 2009.
  • Lower health spending growth resulted in the number of people waiting for a week or more to see a GP rise by almost 50 per cent between 2012 and 2014.
  • Local government spending cuts resulted in the number of Sure Start centres falling from 3,631 in April 2010 to 3,019 in June 2014.

The report finds that overall spending on public service departments was reduced by 9.5 per cent in the last parliament. However, protections for some areas of spending, most notably the NHS, led to cuts being unequally distributed.

Government spending which was not protected in the last parliament experienced average cuts of more than 20 per cent.

The TUC has warned ministers against ‘fixating on the size of the state’, saying that public money is critical to economic and social stability.

Yesterday the TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady called the spending review ‘a chance to set out a clear vision, backed by a proper investment plan, to make the UK a global leader with the best infrastructure and the best jobs.’

She said:

“It’s depressing to see how far behind other countries we are for high-skilled jobs, genuinely affordable homes for all, fast and cheap trains and universal childcare. If they can do better, so can we. But we have to invest like they do.”

In the decade before the financial crisis, public spending in the UK moved from a very low base in the 1990s in line with the likes of Germany, although it was still well below Nordic countries.

The report says that this increase in funding helped reduce NHS waiting times, which had increased by 50 per cent between 1988 and 1998, and helped drive up educational standards.

It warns that if spending cuts continue as planned, it could lead to major recruitment and retention problems in the public sector, more inequality and poverty and a negative impact on UK growth.

So far, we know that the departments for Transport; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Communities and Local Government; and HM Treasury have all reached agreements of around 30 per cent cuts.

The departments for Energy and Climate and Change; Work and Pensions; HM Revenue and Customs; the Cabinet Office and the offices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have agreed to cuts averaging 21 per cent in total across their departments by 2020.

Fabian Society general secretary Andrew Harrop said:

“Public spending in the UK today is not high, relative to either international or historical comparisons. Decent levels of government spending are essential in order to invest in all our futures, provide protection and support at the times when we need it and sustain Britain’s economic and social stability.

“Major cuts in this week’s spending review will put our prosperity and security at risk.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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