In September 2019, then Chancellor Sajid Javid declared he was ‘turning the page on austerity.’ As part of the short term, pre-election Spending Round at that time, he announced some one-year funding commitments amounting to a 4.1% increase in expenditure from 2019-20 to 2020-21. This increase went to a range of government departments, covering especially schools and the NHS. But for many in the social sector, this new funding will not make up for the cuts over the last decade, nor has it as yet made its way to the people and causes that they work with and on.
With the first budget of this new government due this week, to be delivered by the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, we will find out more about what this new chapter for the UK entails. Will we see action that gives optimism to the charities, community groups and others that are helping to tackle key social issues in the country? Will the people they work with see an ‘end to austerity’?
This budget is certainly a hard one to predict. Preparations for an epidemic of Coronavirus may well divert some of the spending we may have expected to see go on key social challenges, while the uncertainties over Brexit and its effects on the economy continue. But here are three areas to look out for in this budget:
£100 billion infrastructure fund to help ‘level up’ the country
The Queen’s Speech stated that a National Infrastructure Strategy would be published alongside the 2020 budget, with details of how the new infrastructure fund would be used to help ‘level up’ the country. Early indications suggested that much of this would go on hard infrastructure, like roads and rail, alongside low carbon infrastructure.
This is a broad area, and if HS2 is included in the £100 billion, that doesn’t leave much funding left for other infrastructure. But as I argued in a blog last month, if the government is serious about ‘levelling up’ the country, it needs to invest in more than hard infrastructure. It will need to invest in the community groups, charities and local social enterprises that not only provide vital services, but also provide the glue that holds many of our places together. And measures to help those organisations with the greatest local impact, would be particularly helpful. Those working in local communities will want to look out for details on whether the government will signal funding in this area.
Investment in adult social care
In the autumn last year, the government committed to additional funding of £1 billion for social care, beginning in April 2020. And the 2019 Conservative Manifesto extended this commitment, with a promise to fund adult social care at this level every year from now on. But clearly, we need a much more considered and comprehensive plan than that to tackle this major issue. There was also a promise of £74 million over three years for community care, for those with learning disabilities and autism. With an aging population and more working age people with disabilities requiring care, those in the health, older people and disabilities sectors will no doubt keep a keen eye on the detail of these commitments in Wednesday’s budget—and especially to see if there is any sign of the endlessly promised green paper on social care.
Indications on the future UK Shared Prosperity Fund
Since Theresa May’s announcement in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto of a new fund to replace the £2.1 billion EU Structural Funds, there has been very few details of how this new UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be spent. The 2019 Conservative Manifesto added that its aim was to ‘bind together the whole of the United Kingdom, tackling inequality and deprivation in each of our four nations.’ Although detailed announcements may not be in the budget, those working across the social sector will want to listen for any hints of where that funding may go.
Of course, the social sector works on causes and with people affected by a far wider range of social challenges than those listed above, some of which may also feature in the budget. And the new government was elected on a manifesto which promised injections of funding into youth services, prisons and community ownership (amongst other things).
These areas may not feature on Wednesday, but how the government includes ‘social’ spending in its first budget could be an important indicator of whether the ‘end of austerity’ will apply to the social sector too.