The impact of the coalition government’s austerity measures on service providers and their users.
The austerity program was initiated by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government in the year 2010. Contrary to the United Kingdom, the austerity program occurred in the United States between the years 1921 to 1946. The paper seeks to address the impact of the coalition government’s austerity measures on the service providers and their users in the United Kingdom. Exclusively, the paper explores the impacts of the program on the disabled individuals, the old people and the single parents.
Austerity is a description of the policies set in place by the government to reduce budget deficits, especially during the adverse economic conditions (Mitchell, Benninger, Rahim, and Arthur 2013, p. 33). A number of the austerity measures include tax increases, spending cuts or a combination of both tax increase and spending cuts. Governments that have a tendency to employ austerity always demonstrate their fiscal discipline to credit rating agencies and government creditors. Similarly, political ideologies can also drive the government into adopting austerity policies. It is always the aim of a government to improve it is financial status. As a result, in developing the austerity policies, it was the agenda of the coalition government to pay down public debt, reduce government expenditure, and restore the public confidence in the country’s financial position.
Harvey (2005, p. 6) defines neoliberalism as the resurgence of the economic liberalism ideas advocated by Laissez-faire in the early 1980s. The proponents of neoliberalism support free trade, wide-ranging economic liberalization, and reduction in government expenditures. The author further states that neoliberal ideas have the potential to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. Neoliberal ideas significantly relate to austerity measures because both aim at reducing government spending.
The Big society is an integral part of the United Kingdom’s coalition government’s plans for retrenchment in the public sector. The austerity measures brought about by the coalition government impacted on the Big Society through privatisation and expenditure cuts. According to Birchall (2013 p. 69), austerity measures restored the pre-industrial situations of the labour market and the dynamic family structures. Austerity measures emphasize on the public to fill the economic void created by the government rather than creating policies to respond to social risks. The Big Society is a concept meant to define the government’s ambition to empower the communities. However, Birchall argues that this objective cannot be met with cuts in public expenditure. Therefore, the society is on the losing end as the government argues of being in a lock economic situation.
Effect of Coalition Government’s Austerity on the Old People
The social care for older persons faces significant increase in demand, coupled with a reduction in resources. The funding restrictions brought about by austerity lead to unmet needs of the aged population. The services received by the older people because of austerity measures in the United Kingdom fail to support quality life and their independence. Increased cuts have resulted in many aged individuals to be subjected to various risk vulnerabilities (Forder and Fernandez 2009, p. 132).
The increasing demand for social services by the older persons in Britain puts a burden on their families because the rising needs of older persons are hindered by the austerity program. According to Forder (2009, p. 1333), the improvement of the older people’s social care requires an increase in the amount of money spent on social care. Forder states that the provision of funds in the medium and long term social care systems will significantly improve the quality of life of the aged and, consequently their independence from their families. The social care for older people is significant because it affects the welfare and quality of their life and respective families. The reduction of social care funding as propagated by the coalition government’s agenda impacts severely on the vulnerable older people. The vulnerability of older people is associated with the stringent rules governing eligibility in regard to the needs. Austerity restricts council-funded social care of the older individuals with low incomes.
Another area of concern for older people is their future in respect to the use of important public services (Chote, Emmerson, and Shaw 2010, p. 177). The older people are the majority of the adult users of the National Homeland Services. These individuals want to be assured of their use of public libraries, leisure services, post offices, and adult learning services. Austerity measures do not meet these needs of the older population, which serves as a disadvantage to their access to public services. In implementing the austerity principles, the housing benefits were also cut by the coalition government. This measure adversely affects older people who in most cases have low incomes. It is also worth mentioning that the global rise in fuel costs affects people who earn a limited income or do not earn any income. The pensioner poverty rates will be recorded high globally because of the cutting of housing benefits; the situation is even worse for older people. Chote, Emmerson, and Shaw (2010, p. 182) allege that austerity cuts are likely to result in increased cases of depression and poor health among the aged. The consequences of general poor health include strain on the already shrinking health service.
The National Council for Voluntary Organizations (2013, p. 23) reports that older people experience restrictions on how they can use personal budgets or deductions made from direct payments. As a result, there is a significant confusion around personal budgets and how the older people can use their budgets. The report also confirms that personal budgets are intended to give older people independence and sense of choice in the accessible support services. Austerity presents personal budgeting as a cost-cutting mechanism instead of a system that upholds the financial independence of the aged. Personal budgets were introduced as an innovative and positive ways of curbing problems associated with old age finances. However, the introduction of austerity functions devalued the essence of personal budgets in the eyes of the old people. The time conferred to older people to receive personal budgets is insufficient. In addition, the budget is insufficient to meet their needs. The insufficiency is a result of the austerity cuts.
Generally, the implications of austerity affect the social care of the older people as compared to any other scope of the subject individuals. In England, support of the aged in home care services and residential areas is a function of the local councils. These councils nevertheless, draw funding from the central government in the form of Revenue Support Grants. With the associated austerity, the amount awarded to the local councils for social care is drastically reduced. The limited funding limits the eligibility threshold of individuals who can access social care. This limitation leaves a large number of older people vulnerable to several risks (Harvey 2005, p. 17).
Statistics quoted by Forder and Fernandez (2009, p. 142) summarizes the effect of public expenditure cuts into three aspects of the social care system. Firstly, the austerity cuts always manipulate the balance of funding responsibilities between the private sector and the State. The imbalance impairs the provision of quality services to older people. Secondly, the reduction in state expenditure changes the number of recipients receiving support. Consequently, many old people are left without social care because with the reduced funding, only a small number of them are considered in the allotment. Thirdly, reduced state expenditure impacts on the levels of unmet needs in the social care system because most functions are not facilitated. Forder and Fernandez note that the tightening in the needs eligibility criteria for state support significantly increases the unmet needs. Public costs could be saved through other means rather than exposing the older population to the adverse strain of austerity measures. The older people are by default the neediest in the United Kingdom, therefore, the government should initiate policies that meet their needs instead of establishing mechanisms that worsen their situation.
Effect of Coalition Government’s Austerity on the Disabled
Within a month after being elected, the coalition government laid out a number of proposed cuts in the Emergency Budget of June 2010. The impact of these cuts on different social groups has attracted analysis from policy makers and media commentaries. The impact of the austerity cuts on the disabled people is a subject of debate held by the third sector and the lobby groups.
According to Kennedy (2012, p. 53), there is clear evidence that the disabled persons are vulnerable to cuts in the welfare services. For example, the disabled individuals are more likely to be unemployed as compared to the non-disabled. By September 2010, approximately 48% of the disabled people were unemployed as compared with a 70% national average employment rate. More so, the disabled persons who are employed often earn less in comparison to people who are not disabled. Kennedy declares that trend has been the case over the years with little improvement projection. The Equality and Human Rights Commission attributes this treatment of the disabled to the low educational opportunities that they access. With these inequalities, the disabled people are more susceptible to poverty than the people without disabilities. The government’s decision to include reduced income and increased costs worsens the financial status of the already poor disabled people while at the same time increasing the number of the poor disabled individuals. The high costs of living combined with the high level of unemployment compel the disabled people to principally depend on the state benefits (Kennedy 2012, p. 58). The disabled people rely on social care services, NHS, and public transport. The reduction in funding of these services reduces the quality of life led by the disabled people.
Despite the local authorities’ efforts to shield the disadvantaged from austerity cuts, evidence suggests that the disabled are affected most by these measures. Kane and Allen (2011, p. 43) state that the impact of financial structure is felt across family range activities of the disabled. The assertion connotes that the austerity cuts not only affect the disabled as individuals, but also their respective families. People with disabilities and their families are tasked to pay for social services which in most instances are extremely expensive. These families, as a result, are left to beg from the public. The consequence of increased begging is growing public hostility towards people with disability. Ken and Allen (2011, p. 46) purport that the less community participation demonstrated by the disabled is evidence to the hostility they are subjected by the public.
The austerity agenda of the coalition government has also been responsible for medical reversions. DRC (2006, p. 88) notes that the introduction of the austerity measures changed the medical model in eligibility assessments. The effect has compromised the access to medical services by the disabled in the community. The Work Capability Assessment determines the eligibility of the employment support allowance with points based on the disability status. However, the assessment system has been accused of wrongly identifying the disabled to be fit for certain jobs. The identification of a number of disabled persons to be fit for specified jobs, reduces the benefit level that the disabled receive. Therefore, the austerity measures decrease standardization of social care of the disabled.
It is without doubt that austerity measures in England, combined with the cuts to Disability Living Allowance affect the personalisation agenda. The measures also affect social care professionals’ capacities to provide customised services that meet the needs of the disabled people. This in turn distresses the independent living outcomes and results in less control and choice for the people living with disabilities in their service provision (DRC 2006, p. 91).
The Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is the exclusive disability benefit designed to compensate for the increased cost of living with a disability, irrespective of employment and income status. This compensation allowance initially provided an index for upgrading the socio-financial status of the disabled. Nevertheless, the austerity cuts applied on the allowance resulted in the policy losing its intended purpose. The austerity measures have turned the Disability Living Allowance into a business where the disabled people are required to meet a definite number of points before they are deemed eligible (Stuckler and Basu 2013, p. 2). The disabled are required to achieve optimum scores either in toileting, communicating and moving around, or preparing food and drinks before they are accorded the allowance. The requirements make the Disability Living Allowance as provided for in the austerity agenda to be an unfair mechanism to the disabled. It is apparent that there are people living in total disability to the extent that they cannot perform any task. The controversy of the policy has denied these people the allowance yet they need it most.
Effect of Coalition Government’s Austerity on Single Parents
According to the Office of the National Statistics report of 2012 (p. 3), there are approximately two million single parents in the United Kingdom. The statics indicate that a quarter of households in the United Kingdom depend on a single parent. An assertion is made by Gloster, Casebourne, Culshaw, Mavra, O’Donnell, and Purvis (2010 p. 34) that single parent families are twice as likely to live in poverty as couple families. The measures put in place by successive governments to improve the employment rate of single parents are a revelation of how a majority of these parents live below the poverty index.