Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Coming Cuts Chaos: A Small Case Study

Supporting People? It’s the best little government programme you’ve never heard of: according to the CLG’s own study its' £1.6bn of expenditure on preventative support services saves the nation- well, England in this case - a total of £3.4bn. Basically, it saves over £2 for every £1 spent on it. Think of it as the 'stitch in time..' programme.

How does it do this? Very largely by putting in places services which help divert people from more expensive services, or delay their entry into/speed their exit from such services. (We’re talking about how to keep people out of care homes, hospitals, prisons, emergency homelessness facilities and so forth here). Good stuff you might think - surely a priority even for this cost conscious government?

No. They're cutting it by 12% over the next 4 years.

You might feel that's not very much at all if you work in Higher Education which is facing 80% cuts in undergraduate funding, but the cuts themselves are only the most obvious part of the problem. The real problem is that the money is no longer going to be separately identified - it's going to be rolled up into something called Formula Grant paid to local authorities. This, we're told, is cutting down on bureaucracy and giving local councils 'unprecedented freedoms and flexibilities'.

The problem here is that pesky word 'prevention' - it's very hard to give any specific legislative meaning to prevention that impacts on individual circumstances: prevention is not about measuring current need per se, but about stopping that need developing into something worse.If you're successful you've prevented a counter-factual situation developing. There are clever ways of measuring this at a prevalence level, but none that work at the level of the specific individual. So the vulnerable people who benefit from SP funded services have no legislative right to them.

On the other hand, councils do have a legislative duty to provide services for people who meet their increasingly stringent social care criteria, or the criteria which determine the eligibility of homeless people for social housing. So they have no choice but to fund services for these people.

So imagine you're a hard pressed local councillor or Chief Executive. You have to provide services for specific groups in priority need but not specific preventative services. There is nothing now to say you can't provide for those people defined as being in priority need by using monies originally intended for preventative services. & your core funding is going down by 7% a year. You join the dots.

Scaremongering? Not really. The Isle of Wight has led the way on this front and put through a massive SP cut last year. 8 months on, the results seem to be:

  • That more tenancies are at risk
  • Anti-social behaviour has generally increased
  • The lack of support available has deterred some landlords from providing accommodation
  • Accommodation placements are breaking down sooner
  • There is evidence of increased homelessness, offending, self harm, substance misuse, increased health issues and financial problems
  • Issues are becoming more difficult and long term to overcome and therefore more expensive.


  1. Thanks for this information Charlie.

    With our campaign against Cuts in Suffolk we often find that we didn't really know the full nature of what government/local government does.

    This is a very good example.

  2. Thanks Andy,

    I know something of Suffolk County Council via work, and have been following your coverage with interest.

    The (overwhelmingly apolitical) staff I know in the Council are simply appalled by what is going on. When I talk to them about it - gingerly obviously, their jobs are on the line - they keep coming up with solid, technical reasons around the legal obligations of any Council which suggest that, despite the headlines and the fear, Suffolk's leaders may find it much more difficult than they think to carry through this 'reform'.

    SP is a case in point: almost all of the money is spent commissioning services from the voluntary and community sector - so someone has to issue and monitor the contracts at minimum. (One would hope that they do a bit more, like strive for quality improvements and identifying future needs, but let's not get over ambitious here...).

    How can you put contract monitoring out-house? And the fact that most of the money is already spent in the voluntary sector means that cuts will mean that the bodies who are supposedly* going to take on all the Council's functions will be actively weakened by cuts.

    P.S. Suffolk CC had a indicative SP allocation of a little over £16.6m in 2010.11

    *Yeah, I know that Suffolk's plan are really aimed at bringing in the private sector, but like Tories everywhere they'll use the not-for-profit voluntary sector as ideological cover.

  3. Hi Charlie,

    Just found this really interesting post, I know it's from a while ago but do you know of any more recent figures from the Isle of Wight? And do you know of any other similar stories?

    Reason I ask is we're working on something called the Early Action Taskforce - - which is about making the case for preventative services. We're really interested in examples where a cut in preventative services has had a measurable impact. Any help would be much appreciated.

  4. Will - go talk to Sitra, they're the experts in this sector. Their CEO is called Vic Rayner. Or you could talk to Homeless Link for stuff specifically around homelessness- their CEO is called Jenny Edwards