Squeezing local government finance will hit women hardest

15 Mar 19

Local government services most likely to suffer from reductions in central government funding are mainly used by women, the director of the Women’s Budget Group Mary-Ann Stephenson says. 

School children Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock


Government proposals for changes to funding for local government look set to turn a crisis into a disaster, and it is women who will be hardest hit.

From 2020 the government plans to remove all central government funding for local government, making councils dependent on the money they can raise locally from council tax and business rates. Councils will be allowed to retain 75% of business rates from that date.

However, local authorities with the lowest receipts from business rates are likely to have the poorest populations and the highest social care demands. This in turn may put pressure on the poorest areas to charge higher levels of council tax, even though their residents will be least able to afford this.  

At the same time councils are currently prevented from raising council tax above 2.99% without holding a local referendum, although those with social care responsibilities can also raise a further 3% ‘precept’ to fund social care services.

The Local Government Association has criticised these measures as ‘woefully inadequate’  and has pointed out that they will raise only £250m against a £6bn cut from councils’ social care budgets since 2010.

Analysis of data from 326 local authorities shows that the precept raises the least in those councils with the highest concentration of older people and unpaid carers. In East Lindsey, where 30% of people are aged over 65, the 2% increase in council tax raises just £30 per older person per year.

However, in Richmond upon Thames where just 15% fall into the over 65 age range, 2% raises an additional £95 per older person per year.

These planned changes come on top of cuts to central government funding for local government that have already had a devastating impact on local services. Funding from central government for local authorities fell by nearly 50% between 2010/11 and 2017/18.

'One thousand vulnerable women and children were turned away from centres over a six-month period in 2017 as a result of cuts to refuge funding.'

LGA calculations show that that £16bn will have been cut from councils’ budgets between 2010 and 2020 – the equivalent of 60 pence from every pound of central government funding.

Not surprisingly these cuts have left our public services in crisis. Demand for social care has increased, while spending on adult social care has fallen. 1.4 million older people currently have unmet care needs.

Other services have been cut by a third. There has been a two third reduction in spending on youth services (65%), and cuts to other services including planning services (53%), Sure Start (50%), housing (46%), highways and transport (37%) and cultural and related services (35%) between 2010/11 and 2016/17.

At the same time there has been a 48% drop in the number of local authority subsidised bus services and more than 10% of libraries were closed – with many more now run largely by volunteers with declining new stock. 1000 Sure Start centres and almost 350 playgrounds have closed since 2014.

All these cuts disproportionately affect women.

Women are the majority of those needing social care, and the majority of those providing it, both paid and unpaid. Women are more likely than men to depend on local bus services and more likely to use libraries.

And as primary carers for children in most households’ women are hit harder by cuts to services for children and young people because they must fill the gaps when services disappear, or advocate for services that their children need.

When it comes to services dealing with violence against women and girls the impact of cuts has been devastating.

More than 75% of England’s local authorities slashed their spending on domestic violence refuges - by nearly a quarter (24%) - between 2010 and 2017. One thousand vulnerable women and children were turned away from centres over a six-month period in 2017 as a result of cuts to refuge funding.

According to a survey by Women’s Aid in 2017 20.3% of refuges received a quarter of less of their funding from local councils and 12% received none at all.

Women are not only losing vital public services as a result of cuts to local authority budgets they are losing jobs too. Seventy-eight per cent of all council employees and 90% of teaching assistants and support staff in local authority schools are women.

The impact of austerity and cuts on their employment, pay and conditions and workload has been dramatic. While the number of jobs in the NHS and central government has risen to a record high since 2010, local government employment has fallen to a record low.  

Between June 2010 and 2016 there were 760,000 job losses in England and Wales (excluding teachers) as cuts bit hard.

The funding situation in local government is already urgent. The governments proposed changes will make a bad situation worse, particularly for local authorities in the poorest parts of the country and the women who live and work there.

The chancellor has promised that austerity is coming to an end. If this promise is to seem real the government needs to urgently review its approach to funding local government and ensure that central government is in place to rebuild our vital local infrastructure.

The Women’s Budget Group’s report, Triple Whammy: the impact of local government cuts on women, was published on the 7 March. 

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