Councils forced to cut preventive services

Cash-strapped councils across England are struggling to provide services for rising numbers of people facing disadvantage, with the most deprived areas hit hardest.

A new report, A Quiet Crisis: Local Government Spending on Disadvantage, published by the New Policy Institute (NPI) for Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, says that 97 per cent of total cuts in spending on disadvantage have fallen on the fifth most deprived councils, despite them also having higher numbers of people in need.

Faced with increasing demands for help and reduced central government funding, these councils, which are mainly northern metropolitan councils, have had to cut spending by five per cent, roughly £278 million, since 2012, whereas the least deprived areas, which are mostly southern county councils, have been able to maintain or even increase spending on services for people facing disadvantage in the last five years.

To meet immediate crisis costs reflected in the fact that there has been a 60 per cent increase in the numbers requiring temporary accommodation due to homelessness, an 11 per cent increase in the number of children being taken into the care system and a four per cent increase in the number of people with a learning disability requiring assistance, the report claims that local authorities are having to shift spending away from preventative services, thus generating future higher costs down the line. For example, preventive funding to help people stay in their homes has fallen 46 per cent since 2011/12, but crisis spending, particularly on the costs of temporary accommodation for those who have become homeless, has risen 58 per cent in the same time period.

Paul Streets, chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation, said: “Local government finances are increasingly hitting the headlines. But behind the particular troubles of Northamptonshire, Sussex or Somerset this research uncovers the quiet crisis that even well-run local authorities are facing up and down the country in trying to fund services for disadvantaged adults and children, a crisis for which the worst may be yet to come.

“Councils have been trying to do more with less for some years, but the tipping point is increasingly close with deprived areas hit hardest. It cannot be right that the services you get if you are homeless or have a learning difficulty are dependent on the post-code lottery of the ability of your council to raise local taxes. And it’s a false economy that in trying to cope councils are forced to cut the very preventive services that can help people before they get into trouble in the first place. Local charities are doing their best to help councils pick up the pieces but as a country, we can and must do better than this. The Government needs urgently to look again at how it funds local councils to enable them to provide and fund services for those who need it the most, regardless of where they live.”

Adam Tinson, head of Research at the New Policy Institute, added: “This research shows how councils have been put in a position where they have to cut preventive services to maintain crisis provision. Other research suggests these cuts are contributing to rising demand for crisis services. Even if dealing with a crisis is cheaper for the local authority than trying to prevent it, there are costs with this approach which fall elsewhere, especially on other family members, the NHS and schools.”