Austerity hits prevention funding

29 Jan 19

Councils face a spending gap of £8.7bn in their bid to provide services aimed at preventing social problems in areas as diverse as homelessness, debt and crime.

A survey of council chief executives and leaders highlights a significant gap between what they thought they should allocate to prevention and what they actually spend.

The New Local Government Network’s quarterly Leadership Index found that resources have been concentrated on acute statutory social care services at the expense of preventative measures.

NLGN says councils currently spend 28% of their resources on prevention, but when asked what portion of their budget they think they should be spending this rises to 47% – a gap equivalent to £8.7bn.

The think-tank, which surveyed 161 council leaders and chief executives, said the local government sector has been concerned for some time that austerity had hit preventative services.

It notes that the early intervention grant for councils – to tackle problems like teenage pregnancy and youth crime – stood at £3.2bn in 2010 but was cut to £1.5bn by 2015.

Public health spending has also plummeted by £900m since 2014.

NLGN noted that the government wants to encourage a shift towards prevention in public services through initiatives like the ‘prevention is better than cure’ strategy published in November by the Department of Health and Social Care.

The recent NHS Long-Term Plan was focused on prevention, it said.

Adam Lent, NLGN director, said: “The government’s aspiration to shift towards prevention is admirable but this survey shows that underfunding local government will make that aspiration much harder and probably impossible to achieve.

“It’s the height of irrational policy-making to invest £20.5bn in the NHS to enable a shift to prevention while starving councils of the £8.7bn they need to achieve the same goal.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been contacted for a response.

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