Conservative councils more likely to cut local welfare schemes, study finds
Academic study finds nearly a quarter of Conservative-led councils abolished their welfare schemes entirely in the aftermath of 2013 austerity measures.
Councils run by the Conservative party were more likely to strongly cut local welfare services as part of austerity reforms introduced by the Coalition government in 2013, a new study has found.
The austerity reforms – introduced by David Cameron’s government – devolved responsibility for decisions around cuts to local services to councils on an individual basis.
Research conducted by the University of Cardiff examined the partisan effect of this policy on the level of reduction in local welfare schemes in England.
The austerity measures allowed top tier councils to choose the level of support given to struggling families, such as levels of food provision, rent supplements, and replacement household goods such as beds, cookers and fridges.
The research concluded that the policy “led to substantial cuts” as well as the creation of a “patchwork of local [welfare] support.”
The study found that Conservative-run councils were more likely to have substantially cut funding for these services, with nearly a quarter (23%) of those councils abolished their local welfare schemes entirely.
However, the research also found that 10% of Labour-led councils had also abolished their schemes, with almost all councils from in England had made significant cuts to local welfare by the end of 2019.
In addition, the study found that one in six schemes had been completely scrapped by 2019, and around 80% of those that were still in use had had funding levels cut by more than half.
The paper’s author, Rod Hick, suggested that despite spending pressures, “the varying approaches between councils shows politics remains possible even in the harshest of policy environments.”
A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that even before the start of the pandemic, millions in the UK had lived through a “decade of deprivation” due to the Conservative government’s continuation of austerity policies and failing to increase benefits in line with rising inflation.
The wide-reaching economic effects of the pandemic has prompted additional need for local welfare across the country, with more families predicted to have fallen into destitution over the course of the crisis.
The Government has faced continued criticism over its handling of welfare issues over the past, with high-profile criticism from Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and footballer Marcus Rashford over COVID-19 support packages for councils and the continuation of free school meals respectively.
In addition, Conservative backbencher Paul Maynard introduced a cross-party bill in February that called on the government to review local welfare and ensure that councils provide adequate levels of support for vulnerable families.
Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) Resources Board, said that the organisation was “calling on government to restore local welfare funding to at least £250m a year” to ensure that families could be appropriately supported as the country looks to ease lockdown restrictions over the coming months.
Various financial experts and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak have warned that the full economic impact of the pandemic has yet to be felt, with charities warning that poverty levels look set to continue to rise as a result.
Published in January, a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that around 14.5 million people were found to be living in poverty before March 2020, amounting to over 20% of the total population,
Read the full story on this report here:
The foundation warned at the time that those figures will only have been worsened by rising unemployment and national lockdowns over the course of the pandemic.
According to the research, part-time and low-income workers were among the hardest hit by coronavirus restrictions, as many worked in sectors that were most affected by the national lockdowns such as retail and hospitality.
Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups were also found to have been disproportionality affected by poverty increases, as well as single parents and those renting either private or social housing.
The report called for the Government to instigate a comprehensive training scheme to help those unemployed to retrain into new roles, improve earnings and employment protections for those in low-income or part-time work, and continue to strengthen the benefits system.
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