Demand for mental health and children’s services will continue to rise as the longer-term effects of the recession and unemployment become evident, the Audit Commission has warned.
Around a third of councils in England have already seen higher demand for mental health and children’s services, according to an Audit Commission report today on the impact of the recession, but most expect further increases.
In addition, three in 10 councils that responded to the public spending watchdog reported higher demand for services for older people, with another half anticipating increases. And 44% anticipated higher demand for homelessness services, on top of the 47% of councils already experiencing it.
The Audit Commission said most councils had taken “sensible, low-risk steps to support vulnerable households”, while some “more ambitious” authorities, often with experience of widespread deprivation, had “coherent action plans” and the capability and resources to manage risks.
However, other authorities were “investing in recession responses without the backing of a sound, well-informed plan”, and many should be “doing more to prepare for the expected social, financial and economic development challenges ahead”.
The Audit Commission also pointed to the financial impact of the recession on councils themselves, a fact highlighted by the Local Government Association (LGA) earlier this week in a report that claimed councils had lost £4bn of income in the past two years.
Frontline services a priority
However, an LGA spokesperson said frontline services would remain a priority for councils during the recession, allowing for local circumstances.
Although some were making redundancies among “backroom” staff to cut costs, many continued to “actively recruit” social workers to fill vacancies, she added.
LGA vice-chair Sir Jeremy Beecham said the Audit Commission had “recognised the huge efforts that councils have made to help people and businesses through tough times”.
Councils ‘recognise long-term impact of recession’
“Town halls recognise that the impact of the recession will continue long after the economy returns to growth and will continue to act decisively to ensure that people in difficulty will get the support they need,” he added.
The Audit Commission also criticised national government-backed schemes to tackle the impact of the recession. “Too few” of the programmes “harness local knowledge to maximise their impact”, it said, while many had “complex or restricted eligibility, or bureaucratic application processes”.