The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has this week published a new Findings series report on: ‘Managing the social risks of public spending cuts in Scotland’.

The outcome is based on Glasgow Caledonian University research into the approaches of five Scottish local authorities towards mitigating social impacts on vulnerable groups in decision-making related to austerity measures.

An extract of the main points follows below. For a copy of the full report, and a four-page summary version, please click on the JRF website link at the foot of this page.

Key Points

  • Local authorities are well placed to moderate the adverse effects of austerity on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in their local communities.
  • In deciding budget cuts, all five councils used Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) for managing social risk. Considering and mitigating adverse social impacts do not yet form a core part of decision-making processes.
  • When seeking to reduce risk, the councils emphasised the protection of statutory (not discretionary) services, to meet their legal obligations.
  • Councils need to develop more innovative priority-setting processes, frameworks and criteria to help their decision-making protect disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Incorporating these processes in a locally tailored tool for risk mitigation – a Social Risk Impact Assessment (SRIA) – would move from a ‘service-based’ to a ‘needs-based’ approach.
  • Local authorities could develop the SRIA decision-making framework to cover all disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, not just those protected under EIAs (groups defined by equality legislation).
  • Although the Scottish Government prioritises early preventative measures, the challenge for decision-makers is meeting short-term ‘reactive’ objectives (e.g. crisis intervention) alongside longer-term ‘proactive’ safeguarding of services for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.
  • To measure the impact of spending cuts on communities, local authorities need more sophisticated data evaluation and analysis systems to inform decision-making.
  • While the five councils carried out consultations with local communities, it is not clear how far these subsequently influence the decision-making process.