1244 GMT September 23, 2019
Echoing the recent findings of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, the study concluded the scale of the cuts and their lopsided impact on the most disadvantaged were a policy choice, rather than inevitable, theguardian.com reported.
“There were a lot of choices, and the government chose to balance the budget on the backs of the poorest,” said the study’s coauthor, Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics at King’s College London.
The study examined the impact of spending on the National Health Service (NHS), social care, police, transport, housing and education between 2010 and 2015 on various groups in England, Scotland and Wales. It also looked at the expected impact of spending plans for these sectors to 2021-22, and tax and benefit changes.
On a per-head basis, reductions since 2010 were significantly higher in England – equivalent to about 18 percent – than in Wales (5.5 percent) and Scotland (one percent), in part because the devolved governments chose to mitigate some effects of the cuts, it said.
The poorest 20 percent of people in England lost an average of 11 percent of their incomes as a result of austerity, compared with zero losses for the top fifth of households.
Measured in cash terms, total spending on public services will have fallen by £1,500 per household in England by 2021-22, compared with just under £500 in Wales and £200 in Scotland, according to the study commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
“The results for Scotland, in particular, show that it has been possible to make spending choices which result in better outcomes for disadvantaged groups in Scotland than has been the case in England,” the EHRC said.
Other findings include:
The decision to load austerity cuts excessively on to vulnerable groups contravenes the nondiscrimination principles to which the UK is signed up under international human rights law, the report said. There was little evidence ministers had taken equality factors into account when taking tax and spending decisions.
The report Alston published earlier this month said the UK government had made a political choice to let what he called “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies fall disproportionately on the poorest.
Alston said the UK was in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights.
The EHRC study recommended ministers mitigate the effects of austerity cuts by increasing means-tested benefits, tax credits and universal credit and raising spending on health, social care, education and social housing.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC chief executive, said, “We know that some communities are being left behind and that the gap is widening. We know we need to do something before it’s too late and we’ve shown that it’s possible to assess public spending decisions to see if we can make the impact fairer.”
The study said the differences between England, Wales and Scotland were down to faster population growth in England, different spending priorities and more generous funding in Scotland because of income tax rises.
A government spokesperson said, “We reject this analysis, which doesn’t include recent announcements such as the five-year NHS settlement or the increase in universal credit work allowances. The report also predicts future spending but the spending review next year will set out government plans beyond 2019-20.
“The Treasury, and other government departments, always considers how our policies will affect people of different incomes and those with protected characteristics.”