Beware pledges of March

Jon Glasby warns against expectations being raised in the wake
of Gordon Brown’s recent Budget, and explains why those
committed to the ideals of local government should be concerned by

In many ways, the chancellor’s 2001 budget has only
indirect implications for social workers, but these are significant
all the same. On a practical level, some of the measures which the
chancellor announced are likely to have a positive impact on low
earners, young families and residents in deprived inner city

It is now widely recognised that poverty and social work are
very much interlinked, so any attempts to reduce poverty for these
groups must be welcomed by social workers. Key measures

– Increases in maternity pay/leave.

– Paid leave for adoptive parents.

– Two weeks’ paternity pay.

– Increases in the Sure Start maternity grant and tax credits
for children and working families.

– A rise in the minimum wage.

– An increase in the basic state pension and in the disabled
person’s tax credit.

– More money for health, education, drug-related crime and

However, the Budget may have a number of longer-term
implications which commentators have not always flagged up.

First, rather than cut taxes, the chancellor chose to use the
money available to him to provide extra funds for health and
education. This is something of a vote of confidence and an
indication of the government’s support for public

Second, the Budget contained few measures that will directly
affect social work, since most major public expenditure
announcements are now included in the government’s
Comprehensive Spending Review (three-year figures for public
spending designed to guard against the dangers of short-termism).
This is a major step forward, but does have some limitations which
have been set out in a previous article (Advice Shop, 22

Third, many of the changes announced were to be phased in
between 2001 and 2003. While this is not necessarily a problem in
itself, the government has sometimes been guilty of announcing new
policy initiatives more than once for the sake of publicity,
thereby raising expectations and making the public believe that
there is more money available than is the case. This then leaves
frontline practitioners such as social workers having to explain to
disillusioned and disappointed service users why there is not as
much money as they were led to believe.

As a result, it will be interesting to see how many of the
Budget measures are re-announced in the subsequent months and to
observe how these re-announcements are packaged: will they be made
to look like new policies with additional funding, or will the
government admit that this is simply an existing policy pledge
being restated?

Above all, however, it is surely significant that the additional
money announced for education and health will go not to local
education authorities and health authorities, but direct to
schools, hospitals and GPs.

This is typical of a much more widespread trend under this
administration to enhance central control of public services and
increasingly bypass local government altogether. So far, we have
seen a range of policies that seem to threaten the very existence
of local government: considerable growth in specific grants (money
that must be spent by councils according to central priorities);
mechanisms for restricting councils’ expenditure; increased
autonomy for schools, and pressure to spend at levels set by the

Against this background, the danger is that some of the measures
announced as part of Budget 2001 are simply another way of reducing
local discretion.

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