This week has seen plenty of focus on the continuing stagnation of the UK economy, with the government failing its own arbitrary credit-rating test and the ONS confirming virtually no growth last year.
Yet beyond the acute economic problems, the UK is also in the midst of a very real ‘social recession’. As with the economy, the double whammy of crisis and austerity is plunging public services across the country into a vicious circle of decline.
In Perfect Storms a report published late last year by Children England this dynamic is illustrated with a useful pictorial representation (below) demonstrating how the economic crisis and government cuts impact on the provision of children’s services by local authorities and community groups alike.
With economic crisis comes a huge increase in demand for services, as increasing numbers find themselves out of work, in debt and in need of support. While at the same time, public and voluntary services are cut back, with loss of funding, staff and volunteers, leading to a growing deficit of provision. In turn, this has led to the growth of service rationing, with increased use of raised thresholds, longer waiting lists or, in the worst cases, turning away those in need. As the axe falls on non-statutory services, like youth clubs and counselling services, people in need are transferred from cheap and preventative community services to expensive crisis and acute interventions further down the line.
As the report states:
“When projects are closed and the services that remain open are inaccessible on demand due to raised thresholds or long waiting lists, the individuals who would otherwise have used them do not disappear. Rather, they are directed or find their own way to other parts of the system. The increased numbers of those seeking support flow through the system, starting at the top but eventually reaching everything downstream, overwhelming those parts that do not have the capacity to manage the deluge”
As a way of showing this, research by the NSPCC estimates that a 10 per cent increase in the number of children on the threshold of being in need will lead to an additional 22,500 children in need, 4,500 looked after children and £258m of protection service costs.
What this report also clearly shows is the crucial inter-dependence of the statutory and voluntary sector, how they compliment each other and how, most importantly, children and other service users in those communities rely on a combination of services delivered in partnership between local authorities, charities and voluntary and community organisations.
In their research, Children England found that respondents from both sectors shared mutual concern about their joint plight and the impact on their service users, showing up the Secretary of State Eric Pickles’ attempts to finger point and blame shift as the shabby divisive politicking that it is.
So what exactly does this social recession look like in practice? Well, the report has some quite shocking things to tell us:
- The number of calls to the NSPCC’s child neglect line doubled between 2009/10 and 2011/12
- From 2009/10 to 2010/11, the number of children in need increased by 42,400, with an 8 per cent increase in child protection plans.
- Since 2007, there has been a 9 per cent increase in the number of looked after children.
- By 2015, there will be 115,000 more children living in families with four or more vulnerabilities (defined by the Cabinet Office)
Finding solutions to this mess will rely on increased collaboration between those providing services within the public and community and voluntary sectors and a process of genuine dialogue with workers, volunteers and those dependent on the service in local communities.
And, as with the economy, a starting point must be the end to the government’s needless and self-defeating cult of austerity.