The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill includes major proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales.

David Mead writes that its introduction is an attempt to divert attention away from serious threats – such as climate change and racialised policing – and onto those who try to raise awareness.

‘By giving the police the discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away our freedom all of the time’. David Lammy’s closing speech at the end of the Second Reading debate of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill gets to the nub of the issue – a potentially massive increase in the power of the state to regulate protest and activism. The Bill, despite some of the hyperbole, does not remove the right to protest; it is drafted very carefully to avoid such a charge, but it does render it far more precarious, and far more in the gift of the police. If we hadn’t before, events at the Sarah Everard vigil on the night of 13 March should make us question the wisdom of this Bill very, very closely.

I will not engage with the question of the Bill’s scope and effect (see instead hereand here). What I want to focus on is the parliamentary passage of the Bill, specifically the side-lining of scrutiny. There are three related issues I want to touch on: the provision of information to the public and MPs about the Bill; the speed of passage; and the need for the legislation (and, more importantly, what MPs see as the need).

The Bill had its First Reading on 9 March, and two days were set aside for the Second Reading later that month. Not only is this a 307-page, 176-clause Bill, but at least for the public order sections, there was no White or Green paper, no draft Bill. There had before been some floating of the need to make inroads though nothing officially was said before March. In late November, Netpol – the network for police monitoring – posted about plans for a ‘major crackdown on protest in 2021’, in light of talks it had had with HMICFRS. The plans were said to include equalising the power to impose conditions as between marches and assemblies; lessening of the trigger from serious to significant disruption to the life of the community; and plans to introduce stop-and-search powers to prevent such disruption. The Bill certainly covers the first, to some extent it touches on the second, but does not include the third. The provisions in the Bill that allow for conditions on noisy protests – if the noise level is such as likely to cause some serious unease, alarm or distress – is new, as is the planned power to regulate one-person protests, the power to prohibit obstructions of entry/exit into the Palace of Westminster, and plans to put common law nuisance onto a statutory footing – though the latter dates back to a Law Commission report in 2015.

Of course, the mood music has been playing for a while – most of the past 18 months have featured regular, albeit sporadic calls for action and castigation of activists, going back to evidence given by Met Commander Adrian Usher to the JCHR in April 2019, where he argued for the police to have powers to deal with unlawful protests, in total contradistinction to ECHR case law. More recently, they go back to claims made about Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, most especially the pulling down of statues and the blocking of the distribution of several Murdoch press titles in September 2020. The Home Secretary responded by labelling ‘so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals’ while some Black Lives Matter protesters became ‘hooligans and thugs’.

It was clear, then, that the tide was turning, perhaps had done so. That does not explain the Bill that has just landed, accompanied by a 161-page HMICFRS report vindicating the government’s approach. Neither does it explain the absence in the Bill of a power allowing the police to impose conditions centrally, so avoiding the restrictions of the High Court decision in the Jenny Jones judicial review. There, it was held the Met had acted unlawfully when a senior officer had imposed conditions on several cross-London Extinction Rebellion ‘pop up’ protests, since the legislation, properly interpreted, required that to be done separately at each scene.

The Bill then is something of an enigma: to what is it supposed to be a response? We soon see an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle when we consider the views expressed by Conservative backbenchers during the debate. Several (not all – see the thoughtful interventions of StephenHammond and Fiona Bruce) managed to convince themselves into holding two irreconcilable positions: that the Bill was proposing things not actually in it, and yet was needed to cater for things that were already covered. For instance, Gareth Johnson said that ‘the Bill seeks to balance those competing rights. It will allow protests, vigils, demonstrations and marches, but not the blocking of bridges or stopping traffic and bringing cities to a standstill. Protests, yes; causing serious disruption to others, no.’ Then, TimLoughton warned that ‘Labour Members may try to claim that they have objections to the new public demonstration conditions proposed for preventing serious disruption to the life of the community’. Finally, Richard Drax was reassured that ‘the Home Secretary indicated in her speech that these new powers are aimed at preventing protesters from stopping people going to work or closing a city like London for days on end’.

Serious disruption to the life of the community has been the trigger for imposing conditions for 35 years, since the relevant Public Order Act 1986. There is nothing in the Bill that adds to the armoury here, yet none of those three MPs addressed the real challenge to peaceful protest, what I term an existential threat: conditions based on likely noise levels. They may simply be repeating a Whip-derived line – that the Bill does not affect the right to protest. But that is nonsense. Any increase in police power has that capacity and potential. Whether it is ever used, whether we think it should ever be used, are entirely different and valuable normative questions. But to deny that this Bill changes anything at all is false. This is compounded with the realisation that, in fact, the Bill does not deal with Extinction Rebellion protests. It does not alter the Jenny Jones decision. Neither does it deal with protests by putting common law nuisance onto a statutory footing. While it is true that since Rimmington a charge cannot be laid if there is a statutory alternative, that is the very point: either there is already an offence in an Act – charge someone with that – or if there is not, the common law provides the charge. This Bill does not change that.

We see the Bill, then, in its proper light: a lightning rod, diverting proper attention away from the imminent threat of climate change and onto those who exhort for a different way of life to tackle it, away from those subjected to racialised policing and onto those who tear down statues. The Bill is the epitome of much wider contemporary political discourse, one that allows government to cast us as good or bad, activists and citizens, reinforcing tensions and division at the expense of collective social solidarity, and for that reason alone we should oppose it.

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About the Author

David Mead is Professor of UK Human Rights at the University of East Anglia. He has worked with Amnesty, Greenpeace and Liberty on protest issues, been involved with practitioners in cases up to and including the Supreme Court, and been consulted by the UN Special Rapporteurs on both Peaceful Assembly and on Use of Force. Most recently, his evidence has been relied on by the JCHR in its report on protest under COVID-19. He is a member of Netpol’s Lawyers’ Group. He is the author of The New Law of Peaceful Protest: Rights and Regulation in the Human Rights Act Era.

LSE blog

Budget 2021: a missed opportunity to make permanent the £20 increase to Universal Credit

Posted: 03 Mar 2021 09:50 AM PST

Ruth PatrickKayleigh GarthwaiteGeoff PageMaddy Power, and Katie Pybus comment on the government’s decision to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit by six months only. They argue that the increase should be a permanent one, as part of a broader commitment to reforming the social security system.

We’ve learned a lot over the past 12 months of the pandemic. About ourselves, our children, our local areas, but also, inevitably, about our politicians and government. We’ve learned that our government is sometimes willing to make bold policy decisions, such as the recent announcement of the extension of furlough into the autumn. As part of the 2021 Budget, Rishi Sunak promised that he would ‘do everything it takes’ to protect ‘lives and livelihoods’. His government’s budgetary measures simply did not live up to these words.

The decision Sunak announced to extend the £20 uplift to Universal Credit by justsix months is testament to this. Not only has the government missed the opportunity to properly invest in social security into the longer term, but they have also failed to extend the support provided through the £20 Universal Credit uplift to an estimated 2.5 million legacy benefit recipients. They have further failed by not acting to make those subject to the Benefit Cap eligible for support through the £20 uplift.

These failures on the budget are part of a broader narrative emanating from this government on ‘welfare’, which continues to rely on divisions between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ populations, and shows an unwillingness to retire old (and arguably ineffective) policy tools, such as welfare conditionality. Both Sunak and Johnson have also shown an unwillingness to think more ambitiously and structurally about the social security system. They have been unprepared to delivery long overdue reform to address issues tied to adequacy and eligibility to social security support, whilst they have also failed to address the design limitations with Universal Credit, which negatively impact on the experiences of existing claimants, and the millions of households who have claimed as a direct result of the pandemic.

Through the Nuffield Foundation funded COVID Realities research programme, we are working in partnership with over 100 parents and carers living on a low-income, who are documenting their everyday experiences in online diaries and by responding to weekly video questions. The parents are also meeting up together in virtual discussion groups. In these monthly meetings, parents work with us to develop recommendations for change, recommendations which are rooted in their own experiences, that are all too often of insecurity, of poverty, and of a social security system that is failing them.

After the budget, some of the parents we have been working with gave their reactions to the decision on Universal Credit. Dorothy, a single parent to two children, one of whom is disabled, told us:

I am a bit relieved that they have extended the £20 UC payment, but I’m disappointed it is only for six months because I don’t think the pandemic is going to go away within six months. The cost of living went up so much from the pandemic and from having children at home. In my eyes, the pandemic is no way near over and the £20 just did not go far enough.

Aurora, a widowed single parent, spoke for many who do not receive the £20 uplift at all:

We as the poorest members of society cannot understand why we’ve been overlooked yet again. Why have we been ignored? We have already bared the brunt of austerity and continue to do so. That extra £20 would’ve been going towards feeding us or ensuring we were able to meet the increased costs the pandemic has inflicted on our lives. But we don’t receive it at all because our benefits are capped. I’m just thankful to Covid realities for giving us a voice when no one cared.

The Universal Credit decision extends and perhaps makes permanent the insecurity and anxiety that social security claimants face. Now, Universal Credit claimants must wait till the autumn to find out what will become of their £20 a week, which for many is the difference between keeping their heads above water, and finding it simply impossible to get through the week. Winter explained what this feels like and the difference the £20 currently makes to her family:

The proposed change [removing the £20 uplift] is the difference between paying our bills and not being able to pay some of them. And if [a] one off expenses crop up (like new shoes for kids etc) then you can’t cover it. Amy changes to benefits are very stressful.

From our work with parents and carers, we know how this financial insecurity intersects with, and is compounded by, the insecurity that we all face because of the conditions that the pandemic creates. We also know that the £20 uplift is not a panacea, and it is not enough: families with children urgently need help with the costs of their children, and to address the stubbornly high levels of child poverty. Lexie, who receives the £20 uplift explained:

The £20 is the bare minimum of help to be honest. I know that sounds ungrateful but £20 doesn’t cover much these days. By the end of the month, we are still choosing between eating and heating. We have always aimed to do better by our children than what we had but it’s almost impossible. No one in today’s day and age should be choosing between eating and heating.

As analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown, the £20 uplift to Universal Credit represents the first significant real increase in benefit levels in the last half century for families without children. However, and this is especially important, while a sizeable and significant increase, it has made ‘barely a dent’ in the decline in the real value of the social security safety net (excluding housing) for childless families as a faction of earnings levels, which has fallen almost continually for the last 50 years. The picture for families with children, the focus of our COVID Realities work, is more complicated; but there is a broader message that the £20 uplift is only a partial and limited corrective for decades of decline in the real value of social security, which hastened under the 2010-2019 Conservative-led governments, especially due to the freezing of benefit levels. Against this context, it was especially important to make the £20 increase a permanent one as part of a broader commitment to the social security system in the UK.

We have seen the possibility in their pandemic response for the government to be bold, to spend money, and to intervene to protect livelihoods. But there has been a failure to do this on social security, and this failure needs to be writ large in all the analysis of this budget, in the weeks and months ahead. It is a failure of ambition and a failure to do what our society so urgently needs.

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Note: The project on which the above draws has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.

About the Authors

Ruth Patrick is Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of York.

Kayleigh Garthwaite is a Birmingham Fellow in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology at the University of Birmingham.

Geoff Page is Research Associate at the University of York.

Maddy Power is a Research Fellow at the University of York.

Katie Pybus is a Research Fellow at the University of York.

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Rule of law and COVID-19: the need for clarity, certainty, transparency and coordination

Joelle Grogan highlights some points of concern as regards the UK’s response to the pandemic, and advocates areas in which both governance and policy can be tangibly improved.

The promised six-month review of the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been completed, allowing for the extension of powers under the Act, just as a new three-tier system has been introduced in England, the Welsh Assembly adopted a travel ban from high-infection areas in other parts of the UK, highlighting a complicating factor in evaluation of governmental response to COVID-19 which is the divergence of regimes across the UK, as health policy is a devolved competence.

The scale, scope and impact of regulations limiting private and commercial life is unprecedented, and has raised numerous democratic, rule of law, and human rights concerns. There is no perfect legislative or policy response to the pandemic. There are, however, good practices and principles which can guide action and lead to a more effective response which have been observable globally. Central to any response to the pandemic is legal certainty, transparency in decision-making, clarity in communication, an early reaction, and coordinated strategy. Democratic oversight in the form of parliamentary scrutiny and external engagement can lead to better quality law and policy when governments adapt to criticism.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 notably did not give or extend specific lockdown powers to government. COVID-19 regulations in England have been introduced by government under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The Coronavirus Act 2020 did, however, extend powers to quarantine as well as to restrict or close premises as well as the power to prohibit any gatherings to Ministers in each of the UK’s constitutive governments. The six-month Parliament review was a concession accepted by government, against criticism of the length of the sunset clause (two years, with the option for Parliament-approved six-month extensions) in the Act. It allowed for a debate on the expiry of the Act. Despite many criticisms of both the framework of the act, and the use of powers under it, the vote in the House of Commons was overwhelmingly in favour.

However, six months from the introduction of the Coronavirus Act (and nearly nine months from the declaration of a global health emergency), Parliament is operational and far more is known about viral transmission, yet the inadequacy of parliamentary scrutiny remains. An overwhelming majority of the COVID-19 measures came into force either the same day, or within a day, of being introduced by government and without scrutiny (albeit subject to the affirmative procedure which requires parliamentary approval within 28 days). There is little justification where the underlying legislation allows only for measures to be introduced without parliamentary approval where the urgency demands it to be necessary. This is all the more concerning where, for example, self-isolation rules with fines up to £10,000 for breach were applicable within hours of being introduced.

A significant number of regulations have been announced first in press conferences, or to journalists rather than first before Parliament despite repeated censure by the Speaker and the opposition. Backbench MPs have also increasingly criticised the government for side-lining Parliament during the pandemic, and called for greater oversight and control over the use of powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The myriad of regulations introduced under these acts (and with very limited scrutiny) has translated into hypertrophied executive dominance but not necessarily better governance. Legal uncertainty has characterised much of the government’s COVID-19 response; the lack of clarity and the absence of long-term strategizing has also often served to undermine policy and compliance.

While lack of clarity was a point of criticism in a parliamentary committee report on the government’s COVID-19 response, a further point of criticism was that there were only a six-month reviews, and there was little provision for more frequent and thematic debates on individual measures. Of course the executive is typically best placed to respond quickly in the initial phases of emergency, but it is unjustifiable to continue doing so without scrutiny where pandemic management has moved from reaction to control. Beyond the point of legality and democratic legitimation of government action (Parliament, not government, is sovereign after all), there are clear and positive practical effects of having more and greater oversight. Debate and scrutiny allow for the identification and remedy of confusion, contradiction, or inconsistencies in the rules. This is even more pressing when the individual impact and restriction of personal liberties is so extreme. In good practice observed internationally, states which learn from error, engage with criticism, and adapt have higher levels of compliance and fare better.

Following initial responses to emergency, it is good practice for governments to use all available information to produce guides which communicate to individuals and businesses what is expected of them; what restrictions apply and do not apply; and when and under what circumstances or conditions the rules will change. This can help effective short- and long-term planning both for the government and for the public. The introduction of a new three-tier system in England (in force two days after being introduced) to replace the regime of local lockdown regulations operating since July 2020 is helpful and a positive step towards a coherent strategy. However, ongoing uncertainty as to what it means in practice, particularly in the complicated underlying regime of exceptions (and potentially exceptions to exceptions), compounded by uncertainty regarding the basis upon which areas will be moved from one tier to the next, risks a medium to high (or very high) level of non-compliance.

A foundation of public trust in government action, and corresponding compliance with COVID-19 measures, is transparency in decision-making. It should include publishing the rationale which underlies the introduction of restrictive measures (or for not introducing restrictive conditions against the advice of SAGE) is important for justifying the positions taken. Simply, it is far easier to follow a rule, when the reasoning underlying that rule is clear. The absence of information invites speculation and false assumptions. There is a clear need for a transparent process by which, for example, areas in England will be moved from one tier to another beyond this being ‘subject to review’ based on ‘a rise in transmission’.

Beyond clarity, certainty, and transparency in legal measures and policies, a final aspect underlining the most effective and sustainable long-term policy in tackling COVID is coordination. This is not as only between central government, devolved administrations, and regional authorities, but beyond that to the international sphere. As all states face a common challenge, there is a wealth of comparative experience from which to draw the best practices in tackling a global health emergency.


Note: the above is based on the recommendations within J Grogan and N Weinberg, ‘Principles to Uphold the Rule of Law and Good Governance in a Public Health Emergency’ RECONNECT Policy Brief.

About the Author

Joelle Grogan is a Senior Lecturer in law at Middlesex

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/rule-of-law-and-covid19/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LSEGeneralElectionBlog+%28General+Election+2015%29

The Coalition’s Social Policy Record 2010-2015

This paper summarises nine detailed reports assessing the social policies of the
UK Coalition government elected in 2010. What did the Coalition set out to
achieve? How much was spent and saved? What policies were enacted and with
what effect?
– The Coalition made ‘tackling our record debts’ its most urgent task. However, it also aimed to
deliver radical reforms to achieve ‘a stronger society, a smaller state and responsibility in the
hands of every citizen’.
– Rapid and far reaching reforms were enacted: re-structuring the NHS; expanding the number of
Academies; starting to introduce Universal Credit; pension reforms; widening non-state provision,
increasing local autonomy and reducing eligibility for services and benefits.
– The Coalition’s decisions to offer relative protection to schools, pensions and the NHS meant that
its austerity programme was more limited overall than its rhetoric suggested, and was
concentrated in particular policy areas. Total public spending fell by 2.6 per cent between
2009/10 and 2014/15. However, “non-protected” services were cut by around one-third.
– Although the Coalition stressed 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. Provision for adult social care users fell 7 per cent per year during the Coalition
period to 2013/14.
– Despite a promise that the better-off would carry the burden of austerity, changes to direct taxes,
benefits and tax credits affected poorer groups most. After initial protection ended, estimates
suggest that poverty increased to 2014/15 and will get worse in the next five years.
– It is too early to assess the full effect of the Coalition’s structural reforms (such as changes to the
school system). Whoever is elected in May 2015 will face many continuing issues including child
poverty, unaffordable housing, pressure on the NHS and social care from an ageing population, a
regionally unbalanced economy, low wages and insufficient affordable childcare. The ‘cold climate’ for social policy – very high public sector debt and a high deficit – also remains.

The Coalition’s Inheritance

The Conservative – Liberal Democrat Coalition that took power in May 2010 inherited a particularly tough fiscal climate. By the end of 2009/10 net public sector debt had reached £956.4bn (62 per cent of GDP), while the current budget deficit stood at £103.9bn (6.9 per cent of GDP). These figures were very high for the UK by recent standards and reflected the impact of the global financial crisis that affected most major world economies in similar ways. Strategic choices had to be made: should public spending be maintained in a Keynesian move to support economic growth, or cut in order to pay down the debt quickly? Should efforts to balance the public finances focus on tax increases or spending reductions? Who should bear the burden of these efforts?
On the issues that are the principal concern of our enquiry – social outcomes, poverty and inequality – the Coalition inherited a better situation than its predecessor. Labour’s social policy programmes had delivered expanded public services. Socio-economic gaps in access to services had decreased. Economic and social outcomes, such as pupil achievements and child poverty, had also generally improved, while differences between the most and least deprived social groups narrowed.

But a lot remained to be done. Child and pensioner poverty had fallen, but overall income inequality had not. There were still large social class gaps in health, early childhood development, school achievement, university participation, and neighbourhood living conditions. An ageing population made the funding of health, social care and pensions increasingly challenging. Other pressures included rising unemployment, concerns about the quality of care, and a chronic under-supply of housing.
What were the Coalition’s aims and goals?

The incoming Government declared that its most urgent task was to tackle the country’s debts. But it also insisted that fairness would lie at the heart of its decisions “so that those most in need are most protected”. The better-off would be expected to: “pay more than the poorest, not just in terms of cash, but as a proportion of income as well”.
Beyond deficit reduction, the Coalition set a further goal of improving social mobility and creating a
society where “…everyone, regardless of background, has the chance to rise as high as their talents and ambition allow them”. Reforms to ‘welfare’, taxation and education were promised, with devolution of decision-making powers from central to local government and communities. Defining its core values as “freedom, fairness and responsibility”, the Coalition pledged to deliver “radical reforming government, a stronger society, a smaller state and power and responsibility in the hands of every citizen”.
What did the Coalition do?

Cut public spending, rather than raising taxes

A fundamental decision announced in the Coalition’s first, “emergency” Budget was to target deficit reduction through spending cuts (77 per cent) much more than tax increases (23 per cent). On the taxation side of its strategy, the Coalition raised the VAT rate from 17.5 to 20 per cent, and increased Capital Gains Tax for higher rate taxpayers. Yet room was also made for sizeable tax cuts – including raising the Income Tax personal allowance from £6,475 to more than £10,000. Corporation Tax was cut, and, from 2013/14, the Income Tax rate for people earning over £150,000 was reduced from 50 per cent (recently introduced by Labour) to 45 per cent.

Gave relative protection to the NHS and schools, but made deep cuts to other budgets

The Government chose to maintain spending in some policy areas and implement deeper cuts
elsewhere. Budgets for the NHS and schools, accounting for more than a quarter of total departmental expenditure, were relatively protected. Spending on health grew in real terms by 2.7 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14: a real increase although a smaller growth rate than in previous years and much lower than the increase in need (for example as measured by the increasing elderly population). Schools expenditure fell by less than one per cent up to 2012/13 (the latest data available). A Pupil Premium, paid to support pupils from low-income families, helped maintain school budgets and also directed money towards those in more disadvantaged contexts.
Although funding for schools and 16 to 19 year-old learners was protected, the budget for adult skills training was reduced by 26 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14. Higher education spending was also cut – by 44 per cent in the short-term – as government grants for teaching were replaced with student tuition fees and loans.
The biggest losers among ‘non-protected’ services were those provided by local councils. Between 2009/10 and 2014/15, local government funding in England fell by an estimated 33 per cent. Within particular service areas, spending on children aged under five fell 21 per cent between 2009-10 and 2012-13, with falls of 11 per cent for early education and 32 per cent for Sure Start. These reductions coincided with a 6 per cent increase in the number of under-fives. Spending on housing and community amenities, which includes funding to build social housing, fell by 35 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14. All the main central government funding streams for neighbourhood renewal were removed. Budgets for residential homes and other adult social care community services were cut by 7 per cent between 2009/10 and 2013/14, while the population aged 65 and over grew by 10 per cent.
Uprated pensions, while reducing other social security budgets

Pensions were protected from Coalition commitments to curtail spending on social security. A ‘triple lock’ was put in place requiring them to be uprated each year by earnings growth, price inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever was highest. In contrast, cuts were made elsewhere by restricting eligibility for tax credits and working-age benefits and imposing new conditions on claimants. Benefits were made less generous by a change to the inflation index used for annual adjustments and by below-inflation increases from 2012-13, as well as cuts for particular groups.
Restructured the welfare state
Alongside spending cuts, the Coalition embarked on an extensive restructuring of welfare state
institutions. In education, it vastly extended Labour’s programme of directly-funded Academies, and enabled ‘Free Schools’ to be set up by groups of parents, charities or other institutions. Higher education regulations were changed to allow new providers to offer degree qualifications. In the NHS, government introduced major reforms emphasising competition, decentralisation, a range of provider types (public, private and third sector) and outcomes. Delivery of a new, consolidated Work Programme, helping jobseekers to gain employment, was contracted-out on a ‘payment-by-results’ basis. Social housing providers were encouraged to seek more private funding for new homes, charge rents closer to market levels, and move away from ‘tenancies for life’.

‘Localism’ provided another key theme. Government regional offices and regeneration programmes, were abolished in favour of local decision-making. Local government finance was reformed to provide more incentives for economic development. In addition, two elements of the social security system – the Social Fund and Council Tax Benefit – were devolved to local authorities, both with reduced budgets. New rights were also conferred on community groups. Local government assumed new responsibilities and powers in the context of public health and the public health budget was devolved. However, with the exception of public health, the expansion of local powers and responsibilities took place at a time when budget cuts gave local authorities less capacity to make use of them.
The Coalition also shifted the boundaries of welfare provision, in many cases moving away from
‘progressive universalism’ towards greater targeting. Eligibility was restricted for some benefits and services. Extra conditions were imposed, particularly for out-of-work benefits, along with tougher penalties for not meeting them. In some areas, financial responsibility underwent a wholesale shift from the state to the individual; for example, by trebling university student tuition fees in England and by introducing adult learning loans. In social care there were moves in both directions: on the one hand tighter eligibility criteria for receipt of social care services shifted responsibility towards individuals and their carers; on the other hand the Care Act 2014 introduced a lifetime cap on the total long-term care costs individuals would in future be required to pay.

Embarked on reforms to the content and design of services

In some policy areas the Coalition’s reforms went deeper into the content and design of services, living up to its promise of sweeping changes. These changes are described in detail in the papers that underpin this summary report. For example, the school curriculum and examination system in England were overhauled, justified on the grounds of making them more rigorous, and a new system of teacher training was introduced. In adult skills training, the Coalition instituted changes to the length and quality of apprenticeships, designed to bring England closer to European systems. One of the most ambitious reforms was a complete overhaul of working-age benefits and tax credits, bringing most of them into a single system, Universal Credit (UC), designed to incentivise work and get rid of complicated overlaps in means-tests and taxation. While many people support the principles behind UC, it proved challenging to implement, and there are remaining concerns about its design and the capacity of the IT system to cope with the number of monthly changes in circumstances which will be required. Just 18,000 people were receiving it late 2014, against an original target of 2 million.
What were the results?

Cuts in many services and increasing pressure on others

‘Unprotected’ services have been substantially reduced. In adult social care, where spending was cut despite a growing elderly population, there was a falling caseload (down 25 per cent from 2009/10 to 2013/14) (Figure 1) and ‘intensified’ focus on supporting those with the greatest needs. Housing policies made little impact on the supply of new homes. Between 2010 and 2013 an average of 139,000 new homes per year were completed, compared with 190,000 under Labour. There were 17 per cent fewer adult learners as course funding was curtailed, and loans introduced. Centrally funded neighbourhood renewal activity was drastically reduced, while economic regeneration programmes performed well below expectations in terms of business and job creation. Despite Government endorsements for voluntary activity and a ‘Big Society’, Third Sector budgets also fell, with cuts estimated between 50 and 100 per cent in some deprived neighbourhoods.

Falling number of people receiving community-based, residential or nursing care
services through local authorities, (England).

In early years services, the number of Sure Start children’s centres fell from 3,631 in April 2010 to 3,019 in June 2014, although survey data showed that many of those remaining expected to maintain, or even expand, the services they provided, in part by making them more targeted. There was also new early education provision for 2-year olds and the number of health visitors and Family Nurse Partnership provision for teenage parents expanded.
‘Protected’ areas have been less hard hit. In education, the Coalition kept school funding resources broadly stable. In England, the number of schools increased, pupil-teacher ratios were maintained, and while the average class size increased in primary schools, it fell in secondary schools. Although there were more 16-19 year learners, the proportion not in education, training or employment fell. Health services were protected relative to other areas but pressures on access and quality began to emerge as increases in demand outstripped increases in spending. The proportion of cancer patients seen within 62 days declined and fewer hospitals met their Accident and Emergency waiting-time targets. Public satisfaction with the NHS, measured by the British Social Attitudes Survey, fell from 70 per cent in 2010 to 60 per cent in 2013. Among employment services, the new Work Programme proved cheaper, though no more effective, than its predecessors.
Tax and benefit changes benefited richer groups more, while contributing nothing to deficit
reduction

Despite the Coalition’s insistence that “those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest
burden”, the poor bore the brunt of its changes to direct taxes, tax credits and benefits from May 2010 to 2014-15. Up to 2014/15, the poorest twentieth lost nearly 3 per cent of their incomes on average from these changes (not allowing for VAT and other indirect taxes) and people in the next five-twentieths of the income distribution lost almost 2 per cent. With the notable exception of the topmost twentieth, those in the top half of the distribution were net gainers from the changes. Perhaps surprisingly, overall the ‘welfare’ cuts and more generous tax allowances balanced each other out, contributing nothing to deficit reduction.

The combined impact of direct tax and cash transfers was mostly regressive, moving
incomes from poorer households to those that were better off.

Early protection for the poor, but increasing poverty later

As a result of decisions made under Labour and initially continued, benefits rose in line with inflation during the Coalition’s first two years at a time when real earnings fell during the recession. The result was that poverty measured in relation to median incomes (before housing costs) fell until 2012-13. Income inequality also fell during election year 2010-11 and held steady up to 2012-13 at its lowest level for a quarter of a century. However, figures measuring poverty against a fixed income threshold show an increase over the same period – the more so when housing costs are taken into account.
These latest official figures pre-date most of the Coalition’s welfare reforms coming fully into effect.
Modelling analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests there will already have been a sharp rise in relative poverty (and in poverty against a fixed line) between 2012/13 and 2014/15 for children and for working-age non-parents, and then a further rise to 2020/21, with the relative child poverty rate reaching 21 per cent, up 3.5 percentage points from 2012/13. Qualitative evidence suggests growing hardship since 2013 among households affected by a combination of falling real wages, rising fuel and food costs, changes to benefit rules, and sanctions.
Pensioners were protected, children less so

As far as taxes and benefits (including pensions) are concerned, pensioners continued to be relatively favoured. As a share of national income, transfers to pensioners had increased under Labour from 5.4 per cent of GDP in 1996-97 to 6.6 per cent in 2009-10. This was also the proportion in 2014-15, although a peak of 6.9 per cent was reached in 2012-13. However, pensioners with care needs were affected by cuts to adult social care.

Meanwhile the cost of working-age benefits not related to having children fell from 3.4 per cent in
2009/10 to 3.1 per cent in 2014/15, and spending related to children from 2.8 per cent to 2.3 per cent of GDP by 2014-15. Concerns about future social mobility might be raised as young children in low-income families were affected by cuts to spending on services, as well as by reductions in benefits for the underfives. On the other hand, poorer school age children received additional help through the Pupil Premium. Fears that the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and the rise in university tuition fees would widen socio-economic gaps in further and higher education participation have not been borne out to date. In fact the proportion of young people not in education, employment and training fell for the first time in a decade in 2013, and increasing numbers of disadvantaged young people applied to university.
Too early to tell for many social and economic outcomes

Most data indicating changes in outcomes are only available until 2012 or 2013, making it impossible to assess the full impact of Coalition policies. The data available to date show that progress in many areas continued in the new government’s early years, but much of this must be considered the legacy of the previous government, since many policies were not fully implemented in the period covered. An exception is education, where, up until 2013, attainment continued to improve and socio-economic gaps to narrow, although no immediate accelerating effect of the Pupil Premium was evident. Early indications are that these gaps may widen when 2014 results are released, since poor pupils have tended to rely more on the vocational qualifications that now carry less value in school league tables.
The overall picture is that there has been little significant change, as yet, in many of the key indicators of social progress and equity. Health inequalities remain deeply entrenched. There is no evidence of closing socio-economic gaps in child development. Gaps in worklessness and poverty between the poorest neighbourhoods and others reduced as the economy recovered, but not quite back to their preeconomic-crisis levels. The Coalition did preside over positive trends in employment, which rose to a new peak in summer 2014, higher than before the crisis. But wages fell and much of the increase was in self-employment and part time working. Some indicators were less positive. Unmet needs for care among the elderly increased. Housing became increasingly unaffordable and homelessness increased.
Still high levels of debt and deficit, and further cuts to come
The protection of health, schools and pensions from major spending cuts meant that even with
reductions of around a third in some other services, the scope for budget savings was limited. Overall, the effect of all the Coalition’s measures in the current parliament has been to cut public spending by 2.6 per cent in real terms, from £674bn in 2009/10 to £656bn in 2014/15 (at 2009/10 prices). As GDP grew, this brought spending down from a peak of 47.1 per cent of GDP in 2009/10 to 43.7 per cent in 2014/15.
The current budget deficit was reduced from 5.9 to 3.5 per cent of GDP. However, public sector net debt rose to 80 per cent of GDP by 2014/15. Current plans to address this are predicted to reduce public spending overall to 38.2 per cent of GDP by 2018/19. Day-to-day spending on public services (excluding benefits and debt repayments) is predicted to fall to its smallest share of national income at least since 1948.

Conclusions

There is no doubt that the Coalition Government formed in 2010 faced a very tough fiscal climate and ongoing social policy challenges. Its response was to seek to reduce the deficit quickly. It also decided to achieve most of its fiscal rebalancing through public spending cuts rather than increased taxes, and to protect the NHS, schools and pensions – all very big areas of public spending – from major cuts. And it implemented some expensive commitments, notably increasing the income tax personal allowance to £10,000 and a more generous system for uprating state pensions.
These decisions meant that while the overall reduction in public expenditure has been less than three per cent, very substantial cuts were made in unprotected areas, largely in local services. In the tax and benefits system, pensions were protected and benefits to lower income families were reduced, while there were tax reductions for some better off households. Despite the aim that the better-off should contribute a greater share of income than the poor, the reverse was the case across most of the income distribution. Poverty rates measured against a fixed threshold rose to 2012/13 (the latest official data) and are predicted to rise further, and there are signs of increasing material deprivation and hardship arising from a combination of rising costs of living, reductions in the value of benefits and eligibility and short-term benefit sanctions. Meanwhile, the ‘protected’ NHS has experienced real average annual expenditure growth rates that have been positive but exceptionally low, while adult social care services have been cut.

Although current public attention rests on ‘the cuts’, the Coalition’s large-scale reforms designed to
reduce the size of the state, stimulate private and voluntary provision and increase personal
responsibility may ultimately prove its biggest legacy. It is too soon to establish their effects on social and economic outcomes. Whoever is elected in 2015 faces a welfare state in flux, with fundamental changes to the NHS, schools, and benefits still underway. At the same time, many problems that the Coalition inherited remain. Increasing need for health and social care, unaffordable housing, a regionally unbalanced economy, and continuing labour market inequalities all remain to be tackled, as do child poverty, insufficient high quality affordable childcare, a weak system of apprenticeships for young people and relatively ineffective mechanisms for helping workless people back into work. The next Government, like the Coalition, will need to address these issues in the context of high public sector net debt and a current budget deficit, and with many of the most straightforward cuts already made. The climate for social policy and those most affected by it will remain cold for the foreseeable future.

Further information

The full version of this paper The Coalition’s Social Policy Record: Policy Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015, is available at http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/RR04.pdf. It is a summary of nine detailed accounts of changes under the Coalition in all the topics mentioned in this paper: cash transfers, health, adult social care, housing, employment, the under fives, schools, further and higher education and area regeneration. Readers wanting further details are advised to go to the individual papers which can be found at http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/case/_new/research/Social_Policy_in_a_Cold_Climate.asp. All the papers are part of
CASE’s research programme Social Policy in a Cold Climate (SPCC), funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Nuffield Foundation, and Trust for London. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the funders.

Ruth Lupton, with Tania Burchardt, Amanda Fitzgerald, John Hills, Abigail McKnight,
Polina Obolenskaya, Kitty Stewart, Stephanie Thomson, Rebecca Tunstall and Polly
Vizard