Unfair Cuts

This is an older article some of the data is now out of date. Our most recent report A Fair Society? gives the best overview of the impact of cuts on people in poverty and disabled people. However, some of the examples below are still relevant.

The cuts planned by central government are unfair. They target the most vulnerable groups in society and operate in a way that undermines citizenship, family and local communities. Central government needs to rethink its approach.

The government declared that, although tough cuts need to be made, these will be made in a way that is fair. In the government’s comprehensive spending review, announced on 20 October 2010, Chancellor George Osborne insisted that those with the "broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden."

The reality seems to be the reverse - the greatest burden is falling on those who can least bear it.

How the cuts are targeted

There are lots of things that seem unfair about the cuts; but we have focused on the 3% of the population with the most severe disabilities and what share of the planned the cuts falls on their shoulders.

The government's plan is to save cumulatively (that is, added up over four years) £23.8 billion of expenditure from all that it spends through its government departments [NB figures are adjusted to focus on England for simplicity's sake - similar problems face disabled people in Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales]. 

By 2014 this group - 3% of the population with the most severe disabilities - will face cuts in:

Social care  - cumulative cuts of at least £4.6 billion - nearly 20% of target

Disability benefits - cumulative cuts of about £4 billion and a cumulative saving of 17% of target

Housing - there will also be cuts in housing benefit

Employment - there may also be cuts in support into work

Community services - there will be cuts in other community services that people use

In addition, for many of this group, the right to control support and the ability to use this minimal funding flexibly is also being eroded.

If you want more details about all these cuts the click here

This means that putting all the planned cuts together - at least 37% target the 3% of the population with the most severe disabilities.

Although this is already a conservative estimate we could make this doubly conservative by rounding this figure, so - at least 25% of the cuts target the 3% of the population with the most severe disabilities.

Or another way of looking at this - in annual terms:

By 2014-15 government departments will be spending - in that year - £2.3 billion more than they do now (many cuts being balanced by hoped for growth in the economy and other public services). But government will be spending at least £3.3 billion less on social care and more than £1.5 billion less on disability benefits. This is an indication of how disabled people are valued.

Why do the cuts target the most vulnerable?

It may seem strange, given government pronouncements, that these cuts are falling on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. But there is a reason for this unfairness.

The government decided cuts were necessary but promised to protect some important public services and entitlements from these cuts, in particular: pensionseducation and health care. This may sound reasonable. But the list of protected services (some of the largest items of government spending - over £300 billion in total) excludes funding for the services and benefits which are important to the most vulnerable.

So the cuts have to fall somewhere else.

Support was not protected for:

In addition, income for disabled people, families and the most vulnerable was not protected.

There also seems to be an effort to pass responsibility for making the most significant cuts to Local Government leaving local officials and councillors to make decisions about cuts even though the cuts are required by central government. What is often not made clear in discussions of local government finance is that most of the funding which passes through local government is not under local control. Funding for schools, police, housing and many other services is largely determined by central government and the level of cuts to these services has been set out by central government in its spending review. Once these centrally controlled services are excluded, local government's primary responsibilities are: social care, environment and roads. Social care is by far the largest element and must therefore take the brunt of the cuts to local government. 

No explanation has been given for targeting disabled people

These cuts do not target:

  • services where there is the most waste
  • services where salary levels are high
  • profit-making corporations.

Instead, cuts are directed where there is the lowest level of media attention and a lack of public understanding: care services, disability and other benefits and grants to community organisations.

Cuts that don't make sense

These cuts are unfair. Poor people will be poorer; disabled people will be more excluded from ordinary life.

But the cuts are not just unfair they are also illogical. The cuts and the way they are being implemented ensures that inefficiency will increase:

  • by denying modest levels of support to families who will then be unable to cope; disabled children and adults will end up in care services that cost five to ten times more than the cost of support to the family.
  • by restricting choice to a limited set of large service providers - as many local authorities are now considering - local people will have less choice, markets and innovation will weaken and costs will rise.
  • by denying support to people with significant levels of need then people will become critically unwell and will be more likely to end up in hospital, residential care or other high cost services.
  • if more people end up in institutional services then more people will be abused.

If we fail to support people to be in control of their own lives, they will end up with greater needs at a higher costs.

If we do not support families and communities to be stronger, we will end up paying more for public services that can only respond in a crisis.

Fairness is more efficient, safer and better for everyone

Cuts that hurt real people

We can already see signs of the negative impact of the cuts on disabled people and other groups of people. Each of these cuts threatens to damage the citizenship of vulnerable people, weaken family structures and undermine local communities.

Calum is a lively eleven-year-old boy who loves being outside: he enjoys playing in the park, going to the shops, riding on a tandem with his mum in front, running around, and going for walks. Calum is autistic and his difficulties with sensory integration mean that he finds it difficult to stay still. This makes it very hard for him to sleep. In the last 11 years he has never slept for more than four hours at one time. Many nights he only sleeps for a maximum of two. His mum says: 

Calum only rests when he is not well. I worry all the time about these cuts. I am desperate to keep him at home, but they tell me they might have to reduce the help we get because of the cuts. I really don’t know if I will be able to go on if we get less help than we do now. I only sleep two hours every night! I don’t want him to go into care. I want us to be a family. But I need to sleep! I have the fear of God in me that I will not be able to cope. 

Olivia's mother tells us about her recent experience:

I was telephoned the week before Christmas by Olivia's Community Physio Manager who told me that her weekly physio visits would cease from January "as part of the cuts". These visits have been essential to maintain Olivia's mobility and good circulation, prevent deterioration, treat acute conditions, advise and work with the CS team on exercise programmes and liaise with the GP and OT team. The physiotherapy treatment has been deemed to be necessary since 2002 (and has played a huge part in keeping her in good physical shape) and now it seems overnight is not. So much for care on the basis of need. If someone like Olivia, who is profoundly disabled and dependent on the care team, cannot access this service, who can?

In another area it is reported:

One local authority recently cut Supporting People funding to 22 profoundly disabled people from 1061 hours to 192 hours per week, effective from April 2011. This devastating reduction in support has prompted the support organization in question to warn the local authority that the 22 disabled people will be at risk of serious injury or worse.

One vicar tells this moving story: 

I recently conducted a funeral service for a family whose daughter had died, who had cerebral palsy and very complex disabilities. The family had been caring for their daughter full time, and therefore relied on benefits to live. When their daughter died they found they could not afford a headstone for their beloved daughter and there is currently no help available. Grieving families in this dreadful situation also have to struggle with a sudden drop in their already very low income and further fear and insecurity about losing their homes.


Last updated 29th March 2011

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Unfair Cuts © Simon Duffy 2011.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

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