Poverty and local services in the midst of austerity

Glen Bramley and Kirsten Besemer

This paper assesses the state of local public and private services in 2012, based on the UK Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) survey, and trends in service usage and adequacy since the 1999 survey. The most ‘universal’ services (primary healthcare and convenience retail and financial services have generally maintained their position in terms of high levels of usage and low levels of constraint or exclusion, although there has been a falloff in adequacy/availability and/or affordability for some of these (dentists, opticians, banks). By contrast, local authority-provided information, leisure and cultural services have seen falls in usage and, taken with the vulnerability of these services to local government spending cuts, there is a real risk of these services going into a spiral of decline.

Looking at the distributional use of the services between rich and poor, the most universal services (including health-related services) are relatively neutral. By contrast, local authority information, leisure and cultural services (including sports facilities) are pro-rich in their usage though less so than in 1999. Turning to reported constraints, the paper finds that low income households are generally more likely to report constraints across most services (with the exception of doctors, libraries and corner shops), though for some services, including bus services, child care and play facilities, the level of constraint has gone down since 1999. However multiply-deprived households (lacking necessities) are overwhelmingly more likely to report constraints in using nearly all services.

Significantly, the report finds that it is not the case, generally in the UK at the moment, that most services are worse in poor areas, with the important exception of services targeted at the elderly and/or disabled (in particular, home care, day centres and special transport).

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