Poorer Scots facing brunt of new frontline austerity

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts a cake with George Bell(L) and Annette Bell  co-founders of the Bell Group during a visit to the Bell Group, a UK wide painting and decorating contractor where she announced the country's new Living Wage
Picture:  Andrew Milligan/PA
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts a cake with George Bell(L) and Annette Bell co-founders of the Bell Group during a visit to the Bell Group, a UK wide painting and decorating contractor where she announced the country's new Living Wage Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
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Poorer Scots are feeling the worst  impact from more than £500 million of fresh austerity cuts being imposed on local services this year, new Holyrood research has found.

All councils across the country are making the “largest amount of savings” from services used by low income Scots.

Town hall chiefs yesterday admitted they cannot “completely shelter” communities from such stark cuts.

Opposition leaders attacked the Scottish Government for “passing on” austerity to Scots instead of using Holyrood’s new tax powers to offset the impact of cuts. Ministers insist local government has been treated fairly in the face of cuts from Westminster.

A report, entitled The Social Impact of the 2016-17 Local Government Budget, says that about two-thirds of spending already goes on services classed as “pro-poor” so the impact on them is not a surprise.

“This spread of expenditure means that, when dealing with budget reductions, councils have little option but to make most of their savings from services which are used more by lower income groups,” it states.

“This pattern of spending is similar across all groups of councils, whether they are grouped by deprivation, population density and population size.”

Services which tend to be used by poorer Scots include older persons’ social work, services for children and families, council-run public transport and citizens’ advice services.

Better-off groups tend to be more likely to use services like car parking, museums and galleries.
But the report does point to the rate of reduction being greater in services for the “pro-rich” which are falling by 12 per cent.

Even though services for the poorer are only falling by 2 per cent, the impact is greater because there is so much more of them to cut.
The report says councils are “trying to protect” services for poorer Scots relative to services used by the better off and “back office” functions.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said: “The SNP has hammered council budgets which pay for our schools, roads, social care and housing the length and breadth of our country. As Scottish Labour has shown, the SNP has taken Tory cuts and then doubled them for local authorities.

Labour has called for the SNP to use Holyrood’s new tax raising powers to raise the basic rate of income tax by 1p to offset the impact of the cuts, as well as a 50p top rate for big earners.

Mr Rowley added: “They can use the powers of our parliament and bring forward an alternative that invests in communities and people. There is a choice.”

A spokesman for local government body Cosla said councils have a “proud record” in standing up for the most vulnerable in society.

But he added: “The simple truth and hard fact is that we cannot completely shelter our communities from significant cuts to local government.”

He called on the next budget to include a “clear recognition of all the services” provided by councils to local communities.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, whose party also backs a 1p rise in income tax, said the report was worrying. “It shows the pressures on services for the poorest people in communities across Scotland,” he said.

Greens local government spokesman Andy Wightman said: “This report shows the negative impact on local services from the Scottish Government’s cuts to council funding.”

But a spokesman for the Scottish Government rejected the claims. “Despite the cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK government, the Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly,” he added.

“Taking into account the addition of the £250 million to support the integration of health and social care, the overall reduction in funding equates to less than 1 per cent of local government’s total estimated expenditure in 2016-17.

“Tackling poverty is at the heart of what this Scottish Government does and earlier this month we set out our Fairer Scotland Action plan, which features 50 concrete actions that we will take to tackle poverty and inequality over the next five years.

“We are also spending £100m per year in welfare mitigation which protects the poorest from hardest impacts of welfare cuts and have recently consulted on new legislation on statutory targets to help us deliver our ambition to eradicate child poverty.”