The Week, 4 November 2022
Beyond the week’s headline economic gloom of rate rises, recession and potential tax hikes, the effects of the downturn — and upcoming Autumn Statement — will be felt at a much more local level. In previous iterations of The Week, we’ve written on the disparate effect the cost-of-living crisis is having on low-income households in different parts of the country.
The latest Census release, which gives a detailed neighbourhood level breakdown of deprivation metrics, makes clear just how hyper-local the vulnerability of households can be. Across the four dimensions of housing, education, employment and health, it shows that even between individual streets, there can be major differences in the factors (for example, unemployment, overcrowded accommodation, and disability) affecting households’ resilience to economic shocks.
Below is an example from the Borough of Haringey, in North London, showing the disparity in the percentage of households that are “not deprived in any dimension” on either side of the railway tracks. Across West Haringey, in affluent neighbourhoods (shown in dark blue) like Muswell Hill and Highgate, a majority of households are not deprived according to any of the ONS metrics above. In contrast, in Wood Green and Tottenham to the East (dark and light green), between 60% and 75% of households are affected by at least one measure of deprivation.
Examples like this are a case study in the importance of “meaningful devolution” — promised by the Levelling Up White Paper in February — which grants local government the levers needed to effectively target pockets of deprivation. Not least because local actors in Wood Green are much better placed to understand the factors giving rise to these pockets of deprivation than those in Whitehall and Westminster.
Which brings us to a report by the House of Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee published on Monday. It notes that a significant barrier to realising these ambitions is that local governance structures in England are currently “far too complex”, with 333 local authorities split between two-tier (country and district) and unitary authorities — in addition to some 10,000 town and parish councils. It argues that this patchwork results in a “confusing and opaque” structure in which it is not clear “where decisions are made”, and therefore how policies and services can be developed to meet “the needs of local areas and local people”.
Reform has long argued that overly complex governance and commissioning structures present a significant barrier to value for money and achieving better outcomes for public service users (check out a classic from the Reform archive,‘Viva la devolution’). The Committee’s report also includes a welcome call for simplifying the way funding for regeneration projects is currently devolved to local government (through a process of “bidding for pots of money” that is counterproductive and wastes “precious local resources” that could be used more effectively). This is a point made in Reform’s report on levelling up Birmingham, published last month, which also describes the current funding system as being too resource-intensive to administer, and leading to “wasted efforts” on the part of local actors.
Onto the reads…
First up, this study in The Lancet Oncology on cancer outcomes makes for an interesting, if deeply concerning, read (for a simpler digest, see this piece in the FT). The study finds that the UK lags behind comparable countries when it comes to cancer survival. No surprises there — despite some improvement over time, the UK has long been an outlier in this area. Usually poor performance is tied to factors such as the underlying health of the population, the fact that cancers tend to be diagnosed later in the UK, and workforce shortages. But the researchers identify another core driver of poor outcomes — a lack of consistent policy. Countries that have “robust, ambitious and consistent” cancer policies with specific blueprints for implementation, are more successful than those, like the UK, who frequently change directions and flit between plans. Who would have thought?
Second, is a staggering report by HMIC into vetting, misconduct and misogyny within the police. Much like the Casey Review’s interim report (which we covered a few weeks ago), HMIC finds that the police are failing to kick out officers who act in unacceptable ways and so “in too many places, a culture of misogyny, sexism and predatory behaviour… still exists”. A failure to identify patterns of harmful behaviour, a culture that discourages calling out inappropriate activity, and a lack of trusted internal mechanisms for reporting misconduct are all contributors. Added to the fact that some forces are no longer bothering to check references or employment history during vetting, it’s clear that a step change is (still) needed.