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29.10.15

Fears over public services hit record levels despite less concern over cuts

Three out of every 4 British people claim that they have been little affected by the effect of spending cuts despite the government’s economic austerity, Ipsos MORI research has revealed.

General worry about the impact of cuts has also dropped from 61% in 2012 to 46% now.

Other data from 2012 suggest that the amount of people who claim to have been affected “at least a fair amount” by reduced budgets also fell by 10 percentage points.

But the research institute stressed that this does not suggest British people are not concerned by the government’s policies for public services: 43% think that public services have deteriorated over the last five years, and a majority of 56% do not think Whitehall has the right policies in place to improve services.

But neither of these figures has significantly changed over the last few years despite the many financial blows to public services.

Yet the research body identified a mixed picture when it comes to views of individual public services, especially within the NHS – where public concern has now reached record levels.

Bobby Duffy, managing director at the organisation’s Social Research Institute, said: “The government’s arguments about the need for austerity do now seem to have taken a firm hold with the majority of the public, as people appear to be adjusting their expectations, and – for many services – don’t seem to be noticing a significant direct impact on service quality.

“It also suggests good work has been done by those working in public services to maintain public satisfaction despite the cuts. So the chancellor will take a good deal of confidence into the Spending Review – although one area where the government needs to tread very carefully is health services.

“Fear for the future of the NHS is at the highest level we’ve measured, and the risks are very real for the government if they are seen to damage one of the UK’s most treasured institutions.”

Within education and skills services, 31% of those surveyed believe that the quality has declined in the last five years, up from 22% two years ago. Nearly half of the population also thinks that opportunities for young people will get worse over the coming years.

In contrast, only a minority of people think the quality of local services – such as street cleaning, recycling, libraries, leisure centres and bus services – has declined, but there has still been a small drift downwards since 2013.

Yet concerns over road maintenance are considerable, with nearly 60% of people thinking this has worsened over time.

And despite the fact that reported crimes continue to fall, some 40% of the public thinks police services have worsened compared to 28% two years ago. Concerns over the future quality of policing are also at its highest level since 2002.

Similarly, fears over the effect of cuts to social welfare and benefits are soaring, with almost half of British people thinking cuts have gone too far. The amount of people who believe the cuts were necessary is also crashing, now representing 47% of the population compared to almost 60% two years earlier.

However Ipsos MORI also noticed that people are often very wrong about the nature and scale of spending changes. They underestimate, for example, how much spending on housing, policing and transport has dropped over the past five years. People estimated housing funds had fallen by 5% since 2009-10, while housing development has, in fact, fallen by 49%.

The data for the study is taken from two surveys, each including interviews of more than 1,000 British adults between August and September.

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