JRF study analyses impact of austerity on poorest communities

Poorer Scots report feeling more confused and less secure following rapid cuts to their incomes, according to a study for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).It finds signs of close knit communities lending support to some members but an overall picture of heightened risk and instability.

The report, Redistribution of social and societal risk: the impact on individuals, their networks and communities in Scotland, specifically examines the impact of welfare reform and local government cuts on older people, lone-parents and people experiencing in-work poverty within Craigneuk, North Lanarkshire.

It is the latest of several JRF funded research projects tracing the impact of austerity policies on people and places in poverty. Related reports includeThe impact of welfare reform on social landlords and tenants (November 2014) and The cost of the cuts: their impact on local government and poorer communities (which is due to be published on the 11th of March 2015).

Drawing on in depth interviews, the report’s authors argue that recent and rapid welfare changes represent an unprecedented transfer of risk from the state to individuals. They warn that cuts to discretionary services will ultimately lead to higher costs if the cuts exacerbate social inequality and increase negative outcomes for individuals.

Key findings include:

  • Reduced provision of educational support, youth services, leisure and social care, are likely to exacerbate social risks for the three case study groups - risks that they appear insufficiently equipped to handle.
  • Despite identifying a deterioration in some services further proposed changes to public service provision were less of a concern for respondents than the adverse impact of welfare reform on their personal circumstances;
  • Tougher sanctions attached to job seekers’ allowance and the earlier re-categorisation from carer to employee when seeking work are the welfare changes lone parents are most affected by;
  • Although older people are relatively protected from cuts some have in turn had to provide more support to affected family members, such as through childcare.
  • Emergency measures put in place by the Scottish Government nationally and locally are helpful but agencies report frustration that they aren’t always able to engage the people entitled to such assistance.
  • The report concludes by recommending that the Scottish Government’s Equality Statement be expanded to identify the full range of social risk implications of the austerity measures, thus establishing the foundation for a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy.GCU’s Professor Asenova, lead investigator on the study, said: “Cuts to public services and changes to welfare provision increase the social risks experienced by several key groups, leading to further inequality, hardship and polarisation. All levels of government need to begin analysing the cumulative impact of this risk transfer and if necessary introduce policies to lessen the adverse impacts on the most vulnerable.”

    Ilona Haslewood, policy and research manager for JRF, added: “This study offers valuable insight into the lived reality of austerity as experienced by vulnerable groups. It also highlights how changes to welfare and cuts to public services combine with wider factors to place individuals and communities at heightened risk, risk which they are only partially able to absorb.”

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