Despite the reports of an upturn in the economy, there are still austerity cuts to be made over the next few years. That is all the more reason why a greater understanding of the implications of the cuts on people and services is required. We recently conducted the first study looking at what these cuts mean for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the UK and are happy to announce the report is now published. But first, what are austerity cuts?
In May 2010, the Coalition government began introducing a series of reductions in public spending intended to reduce the budget deficit; also known as austerity cuts. In short, cuts have been applied to non-ring fenced departmental spending, local authority spending and related services in the voluntary and community sector.
What does this mean for services and the people they serve?
UNISON, one of Britain’s largest public service unions, wanted to go beyond anecdotal evidence and better understand how cuts to the public and voluntary sector are affecting its members, including LGBT service users and workers. And that’s where we came in. UNISON commissioned us to provide qualitative insight into whether, and how, LGBT people had been affected by austerity cuts.
Perhaps it is not a surprise that LGBT people and the services they use were affected by austerity cuts in a number of ways, although the extent to which they experienced them varied.
Amongst some participants there was a fear that progress on challenging heterosexism and discrimination was being reversed and that homophobia and transphobia were on the rise again. There was also a view that LGBT concerns and needs were treated in policy terms as ‘a nice thing to do’ and that could be dropped during harder times.
Providers of services to LGBT people discussed restructuring and efficiency savings in their attempt to keep services going. Such restructuring was, however, thought to be unsustainable in the longer-term because of negative effects on staff retention and service quality. For example, there was some evidence of a loss of staff with specialist LGBT knowledge.
Where personal effects from austerity cuts were described by individuals, service users and others they knew in the wider LGBT community, they included:
• greater financial hardships from redundancies, real term pay cuts and changes to benefit rules;
• problems finding safe accommodation and that was sensitive and friendly to LGBT people;
• a reduction in sexual health and mental health services that addressed their specific needs;
• greater feelings of marginalisation and invisibility as specialist LGBT services and support disappeared.
With more cuts coming it’s important to consider the ways in which services, their staff and their users can be protected from the negative effects. Our participants suggested there are a number of key ways that UNISON and other organisations working with LGBT people can challenge cuts to services for LGBT people. This includes providing information about the nature of cuts and coordinating a more strategic opposition to them at a local level; gathering evidence on the effects of cuts and disseminating it widely through organisations and the media; and taking collective action where necessary.
Read more about our expertise in equality and diversity policy.