Today Phillip Hammond will deliver his first Autumn Statement as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the contents of which are, at the time of writing, still subject to speculation. Mr Hammond has already alluded to plans of a strategy that will ensure the UK economy is “watertight”, ready for any challenges that might be faced during Brexit. To do this, it is likely that he will announce that there will be less of a focus on “balancing the books” by 2020, something which was prioritised by his predecessor. What does this mean for austerity measures? And what does it mean for the public sector and service users who have been faced with these the outcome of these measures since 2010?
What we do know is that the reductions in public spending that have been implemented over the past six years have had consequences for a broad range of both service providers and users. In 2013 UNISON, Britain’s largest service unions, commissioned NatCen to conduct research to explore the effect of austerity measures on LGB and T services and people. UNISON wanted to go beyond anecdotal evidence and better understand how cuts to the public and voluntary sector were affecting its members, including LGBT service users and workers.
Three years on and UNISON approached us again. With continued reductions to public spending over the past three years, UNISON wanted an update on what the picture was like for LGBT services and people now. We used the same approach as we did in 2013 to provide a qualitative insight into whether and how LGB and T people have been affected by reductions to public spending.
So what does the picture look like for 2016? Overall, our research found that fears about reductions to public spending that were identified in 2013 had become a reality for LGB and T services and people in 2016. Where effects had been felt this was because of cuts to funding or reduced access to services and support for LGB and T people when they needed it the most.
People who took part did recognise that reductions to public spending were likely to be affecting lots of different groups of people across the UK, but felt that LGB and T people were being disproportionately affected.
Service users and providers described a ‘double bind’ effect, in that some LGB and T people had a greater need for support because of the discrimination they faced. However, they also thought that they were less of a priority for public and charitable funding.
While the research found a wide range of effects for service users and service providers there appeared to be stark concern about the effect these reductions were having on mental health and emotional support, particularly for younger people and transgender people.
Service providers warned of potential issues for young LGB and T people such as self-harm, substance misuse or even suicide because of long waiting-lists and/or limited access to services at the point of need. Our research even found instances where young transgender people were being turned away from services because there was limited or no expertise available to meet their needs.
The continued cuts to services and ever-reducing pool of support available for people left service providers concerned that LGB and T people could soon have nowhere to seek advice and support in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Lack of support for transgender people
We also found that transgender people felt left alone at the point where they needed support the most. Respondents told us that long waiting lists for gender identity clinics (the longest reported wait was up to 4 years) and psychological support left respondents feeling like they lacked support. This was particularly the case during challenging periods of coping with gender dysphoria or coming to terms with feelings of isolation.
While we are unsure as to what will happen today, it is unlikely that reducing the deficit will fall off the agenda completely. What will this mean for LGB and T services and people? What we know from our research is that the picture looks worse for LGB and T services and people in 2016 compared to 2013. Services that are still running are focusing on survival and service users are facing long waiting lists for advice and support in relation to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Further reductions to public spending are likely to further these negative consequences on LGB and T people and services.