Spending review hits rural areas

Posted on October 21, 2010 in Journalism

When the day came it wasn’t all bad news – but the devil will be very much in the detail, which will become apparent over the following weeks and months.

Superfast broadband is to be piloted in four rural areas, and Sure Start funding is secure in cash terms.

And pensioners will benefit from the continuation of free bus passes, eye tests and prescription charge, as well as Winter Fuel Payments and cold weather premiums – which will be made permanent.

But as we feared, there are also some very big losers…

Rural Services Network – October 2010

Social housing

Anyone in social housing, on a waiting list, or claiming housing benefit, could end up worse off.

Cuts to housing benefit, reduced pressure on councils to build new housing, plus cuts in social investment and changes to the definition of affordable housing, will all put pressure on social housing.

This is the “ticking time bomb in the government’s plans – which will have economic implications as well as political ones,” said Stephanie Flanders, the BBC’s economics correspondent.

“It a big gamble with the bottom end of the UK housing market,” she added.

Between 1000 and 2000 people will be made worse off, or notionally worse off, in many of the larger rural councils – according to an impact assessment of the cuts produced by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Public transport

Those reliant on public transport – as many are in rural areas – will also suffer.

First, train fares are set to rise at 3% above the rate of inflation.

Second, the national transport budget will be reduced by 21% over four years – and the few major projects that are to be funded are all in urban areas.

“Inevitably, many rural people will face hardship as a result of these cuts,” said Ben Stafford, Head of Campaigns at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

Women and teenagers

Which groups will lose out most? Women, teenagers and those with disabilities, say the predictions.

Women account for roughly two-thirds of public sector employees, where an estimated 490,000 jobs are expected to go – occupying in particular, vulnerable front line and back office roles.

They will also be harder hit by the cuts in other benefits – pension credit, working tax credit and child care support – said Labour’s equalities minister Yvette Cooper.

Meanwhile the news of higher university tuition fees, coupled with the loss of education maintenance allowance, and a 25% cut in funding for further education will all be bad news for students.

“You’re on your own,” is the message being given to young people, says the National Union of Students.

Welfare dependents

And the tightening of the national welfare budget by £7bn, in addition to the £11bn already announced by the coalition government, will pose extra pressures on those with disabilities.

The introduction of a one year time limit to how long people can claim the contributory element of Employment Support Allowance means that people with disabilities, who find it hardest to secure jobs, will be forced to draw on their savings, or look for other means of support.

And the termination of disability living allowance for those in care homes means a further cut for thousands of disabled people.

“Disabled people will be among the hardest hit by the spending review,” concludes The Guardian.

And speaking about the broader welfare changes, BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said: “A significant number of people who now depend on housing benefit, council tax benefit, tax credits and what used to be called “sickness” benefit will receive significantly less or stop receiving benefits altogether.”

Unknowns

The impact of other changes will only become clear in time.

Who knows how much the reduction in police budgets (4% pa) and DEFRA (8% pa) – and the aboplition of the Commission for Rural Communities – will affect rural areas.

But it is likely that the cuts to council budgets (7.1% pa) will have significant consequences on the services, support and budgets available.

And as we know from new RSN research, some 36% of rural councils are already cutting services or reducing service levels.

Many are looking to communities and voluntary groups to play a larger role, along the liens of David Cameron’s Big Society, but expect their grant funding to the voluntary and community sector to be a victim of the cuts.

There is only one possible conclusion – the future is grim.