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Politics

How spending cuts have decimated public services since 2010, from libraries to youth clubs

Libraries, youth clubs, education and homelessness outreach are some of the services impacted by public spending cuts since 2010

Jeremy Hunt has announced huge spending cuts alongside tax rises in Thursday’s Autumn Statement to help plug a reported £55bn gap in public finances.

Where those cuts are eventually made will be of great interest to teachers, youth workers, NHS staff, social workers and other council employees who are already working on shoestring budgets after years of austerity.

Leading voices across the public sector have warned the chancellor there is simply nothing left to cut, while a group of 120 economists warned the move will “condemn the country to more years of failing public services”.

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Even the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, Sir Charlie Bean, told The Financial Times: “Austerity 2.0 will be even more difficult because public sector budgets are already under severe strain.”

So how much strain, exactly? Here’s a round-up of how cuts have impacted vital public services since the Tories came to power in 2010.

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Libraries

In 2010 there were 4,356 libraries in England, Wales and Scotland. By 2020 there were 3,583, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Some 773 closed in that time – almost a fifth. The CIPFA also said national spending on the service topped £1bn in 2009/10 but dropped to under £750m in 2018/19.

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Council budgets

Councils faced a £15bn real terms reduction to core government funding between 2010 and 2020, from £41bn to £26bn, the Institute for Government found. However, in that time they did raise 25 per cent more in real terms through council tax as ministers encouraged rises as a way to generate cash.

Metropolitan districts – primarily local authorities in cities – and London local authorities have seen the biggest reductions in spending power since 2010 because government grants made up a larger share of their funding. They have also had to deal with rising demand for social care, which they must provide and therefore makes up more and more of their spending.

Ahead of the Autumn Statement, the Local Government Association (LGA) has told the chancellor its analysis shows inflation, estimated rises to the national living wage and increasing demand will lead to a £3.4bn funding gap in 2023/24 and £4.5bn in 2024/25. It says this is too big to be plugged by council tax increases alone.

“Even if councils cut all spending on cultural and leisure services such as libraries, swimming pools, open spaces, waste collection and trading standards they would still not have saved enough money to plug this gap,” the LGA said.

Youth services

In 2020/21, local authority spending on youth services in England totalled £379m, the YMCA states. This represents a £1.1bn cut in a decade, with real-terms expenditure down 74 per cent from 2010/11’s £1.48bn spend. In Wales spend was also down, though not as much. In 2020/21, local authorities in Wales (excluding the Isle of Anglesey) spent £37.7m on youth services, representing a 32% real-terms decrease from £54.5m in 2010/11.

The YMCA said that in 2020/21, several councils in England reported they had absolutely no money allocated to youth services.

As of 2020, 4,500 youth worker jobs had been cut and 750 youth centres closed due to cuts.

Councils’ spend per child aged five to 17 in England has also plummeted by 77 per cent, while in Wales it has reduced by a third.

Young children’s services

The number of dedicated children’s centres – a vital service for parents with young children – dropped from 3,615 in 2010 to just 2,273 in 2021, government figures show. That’s down 1,342, or more than a third.

Education

Between 2010 and 2019, total public spending on education across the UK fell by £10bn, or 8 per cent in real terms, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The IFS also found deprived schools have seen larger cuts. It found the most deprived secondary schools saw a 14 per cent real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009/10 and 2019/20, compared with a 9 per cent drop for the least deprived schools.

New research this week from publisher Penguin has found one in seven state primary schools now do not have a dedicated library space, impacting 750,000 children.

Homelessness

Homelessness services are largely funded by councils. Homeless Link says that funding restraints have contributed to 39 per cent fewer accommodation providers and 26 per cent fewer bed spaces for people experiencing homelessness than in 2010.

NHS

Data from The King’s Fund shows the Department for Health and Social Care budget increased annually between 2009/10 and 2018/19, from £116.8bn to £132.9bn in real terms by 2019/20 prices.

The reason the NHS is struggling is because its funding growth has slowed. A lot. In its first 70 years, the NHS’s average annual budget rise was 3.7 per cent. Between 2009/10 and 2018/19 it was just 1.5 per cent.

Ahead of his Autumn Statement, Hunt acknowledged “massive pressures in the NHS” but said it received a lot of money, adding: “We need to do everything we can to find efficiencies.”

Social care

As council budgets were gutted, spending on social care bore the brunt. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, average per-person spending on social care for the over 65s fell by 31 per cent, according to the IFS. These cuts went hand-in-hand with a reduction in the number of people receiving government-funded social care.

Age UK says since 2010 the state has cut its spending on adult social care by £86m, despite a rapidly increasing demand because of the ageing population.

Big Issue Group’s #BigFutures is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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