The Coalition’s Record on the Under Fives: Policy Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015

Youngest children and poorer households worst hit by Coalition’s selective cuts, according to major new report.

This is Working Paper 12 in the series; the full report can be found hereThis paper assesses the Coalition’s record on policy spending and outcomes on the under fives between 2010 and 2015. The press release for the full report can be found below.

Poorer groups have been worst affected by changes to direct taxes, benefits and tax credits despite the Coalition’s promise that the rich would carry the burden of austerity, according to a major new report from LSE and the Universities of Manchester and York. As a result, poverty has been increasing and will get worse in the next five years.

The report also reveals that families with young children have been hit harder than any other household type under the Coalition’s cuts despite early rhetoric highlighting the importance of the “foundation years”. Real spending per child on early education, childcare and Sure Start services fell by a quarter between 2009-10 and 2012-13 and tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type.

The authors acknowledge that the Coalition faced a high level of debt and current budget deficit following the global financial crisis.  In response it made some strategic choices: not to cut the NHS (in cash, though not in need terms) nor schools; to increase spending on pensions; to raise the income tax threshold and to cut the top rate of tax.

Its choices to protect very large areas of public spending meant that its austerity programme was more limited in practice than its rhetoric suggested, and that austerity measures were concentrated on particular policy areas. Year-on-year public spending has dropped less than 3 per cent, but cuts of around a third have been made to ‘unprotected’ services, including those for pre-school children under five, vulnerable and older adults needing local authority social care.  In practice, people with health and care needs and children moving from pre-school to university frequently cross the boundary between protected and unprotected services.  Even ‘protected’ areas such as the NHS have faced rising demands on fixed or falling budgets.

These overall conclusions are based on a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of policy, spending, outcomes, and trends across nine different areas of social policy.  Separate reports are available for each, covering reforms as well as spending and highlighting challenges for an incoming government.  They provide detailed facts and analysis to underpin the debates running up to the general election in May.

The main findings include:

  • Although the Coalition stressed the importance of the “foundation years”, in fact families with children under five saw significant cuts to services – real spending per child on early education, childcare and Sure Start services fell by a quarter between 2009-10 and 2012-13. In addition, tax-benefit reforms hit families with children under five harder than any other household type.
  • While health was protected relative to other expenditure areas, real growth rates were extremely low by historical standards and a number of key indicators suggest increasing pressure on the system. Health inequalities remain deeply embedded.

The research follows a similar review of the Labour social policy record, published in 2013, Labour’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 1997-2010, Both were funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Trust for London.

There are nine individual papers covering employment, taxes and benefits, health, adult social care, housing, children under five, schools, further and higher education and skills, and area regeneration. There is also an overview The Coalition’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015.

Programme leader, Professor Ruth Lupton of the University of Manchester said:

There is more to the Coalition than cuts.  Its major legacy may turn out to be its rapid reforms of the schools system, the NHS, and welfare benefits.  But its decisions on where to cut and where to spend have limited its scope either to reduce the debt or protect the poor”.

CASE director, Professor John Hills, said:

Protection of some of the core parts of the welfare state from the greatest cuts, and initial protection of the value of benefits, meant that those at the bottom and important services were initially shielded from the worst effects of the recession.  But in the second part of the Coalition’s period, selective cuts to benefits and to unprotected services have begun to take their toll, leaving the next government, of whatever kind, with much greater social policy challenges than the Coalition inherited.”