By Isabel Togoh
The cost of public services is being increasingly shifted onto individuals as government funding on health and social care pushes out spending on other key services, a think tank has warned.
Cuts to legal aid and the introduction of charges for waste collection are some of the instances of councils and central government getting people to pay directly for services where they can.
The Performance Tracker report said legal aid slashes have led to more defendants now having to pay for their own defence or defend themselves, “adding to judges frustrations”.
Earlier this year it was revealed that local councils made £74m through charges for garden waste collection.
The Local Government Association defended charging decisions, saying authorities faced a £5bn shortfall from central government.
Published by the Institute for Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Affairs, analysis found that social care spending by local councils was also crowding out spending on libraries and trading standards.
It warned that decreased spending on such services “creates obvious potential for public resentment”.
According to the report, local council spending on services outside social care dropped from 55% in 2010/11, to 46% this year.
On a national level, spending on health and moves to reduce the budget deficit came at a cost to other services.
The analysis into public sector cost and efficiency expressed concern that spending trade-offs made by the government have not been made clear to the public due to gaps in recording data.
It called for “tough decisions” to be made on the future of public services including whether to increase taxes, make radical changes to services or lower expectations.
It added that the government should focus more on the performance of services, not just their cost, as the report raised particular concerns about the output of prisons, adult social care and neighbourhood services.
Dr Emily Andrews, associate director at the Institute for Government, said: “Public services are more efficient than they were eight years ago. But those savings haven’t been enough to bring the widening gap between spending and demand for many services.
“One way the government has tried to save money and avoid the need for tax increases is by asking members of the public to contribute more in other ways – from volunteers running libraries to people paying a greater share of the cost of defending themselves in court.”
Gemma Tetlow, chief economist at the institute, called on Theresa May and Chancellor Phillip Hammond to “start making explicit the realities facing the country about what public services cost and how that money can be raised”.
“They need to begin telling people clearly that they face a national choice,” she added.