The UK has spent nearly a decade under Tory rule – a period that even advocates of Conservatism would have a hard time defending.
While the last few years have been about "getting Brexit done", and failing continually to get Brexit done, what Prime Ministers Cameron, May and Johnson will be remembered for is an era of crippling austerity, soaring rates of homelessness and inequality, and a marked increase in racism, xenophobia and national division. You can see all this on our streets, but for those who want cold, hard proof, its also borne out in data collected over the last decade.
Let's have a look at what exactly those figures tell us about the past ten years.
1: A RISE OF ROUGH SLEEPERS
The 250 percent rise in the number of unsheltered homeless speaks for itself, but charity Shelter says rough sleeping numbers are just the tip of the iceberg – that the UK's housing emergency runs much deeper, affecting potentially millions of people.
In addition to the 4,677 people sleeping rough on any given night during 2018, almost 85,000 people were living in temporary accommodation (which includes families living in just one room). This problem is exacerbated by the fact that more than 9 in 10 private renters (91 percent) who need a social home are unable to get one and are left on waiting lists, often for years on end, while millions more households are denied the right to a safe home, or are currently under threat of losing their homes.
2: NOT ENOUGH DOCTORS
The NHS is under pressure and understaffed. Despite plans in the health service's "Five Year Forward View" to increase funding and efficiency levels by 2020, under-funding has left the NHS with the fewest doctors per 1,000 patients in the EU, according to a report from the Health Foundation. That report found that the UK has just 2.8 doctors for every 1,000 patients – 28 percent lower than the EU average of 3.9 doctors.
3: CUTS TO YOUTH SERVICES
Over the last decade, spending on youth services has been cut by 69 percent, and is set to reach its lowest point in a generation next year. In some areas – such as West Berkshire, Gateshead, Portsmouth, Southampton, Somerset, Norfolk and Nottingham – funding has dropped by over 90 percent since 2010.
A YMCA study found that the average spend per council in 2010/2011 was £7.79 million, compared to just £2.45 million in 2019/2020. In 2010/11, a total of £1.18 billion was spent, compared to £385 million eight years later.
Campaigners warn that these cuts are pushing more young people into street violence: knife crime in the UK has surged, with 43,516 offences reported to police last year across England and Wales (discounting Greater Manchester Police, which records data differently), the highest since records began in 2011.
4: A DROP IN FUNDING FOR WOMEN'S REFUGE CENTRES
Council funding for women's refuges – many of which house women with children fleeing violence – has dropped from £31.2 million in 2010/2011 to just £23.9 million in 2016/2017. There are over 250 refuges in England, but according to Women’s Aid 17 percent of specialist women's refuges were forced to close between 2010 and 2014, while the refuges which remained open were forced to turn away over 1,000 women in 2017.
5: THE RISE AND FALL OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING
The number of affordable houses is lower now than it was in 2011, and despite repeated attempts to create more affordable housing (and a sharp increase in homelessness), the number of empty homes across England has risen for the second consecutive year. There are now 216,000 empty homes (defined as those that have been empty for at least six months or more), the highest number since 2012.
6. INCREASED USE OF FOOD BANKS
The Trussell Trust – the UK's largest food bank charity – found that there has been a whopping 5,146 percent increase in emergency food parcels being distributed since 2008. In the last decade, the trust has gone from handing out 26,000 parcels a year to more than 1.33 million.
The total number is likely to be much higher, as many independent food banks have sprung up across the UK to meet the demands of the increasing number of people facing food poverty. The Trussell study also showed that five key welfare policies – the rollout of universal credit, bedroom tax, benefits freeze, increases in benefit sanctions and cuts to disability benefits – had significant effects on families depending on food banks.
7: AN INCREASE IN PEOPLE USING NHS MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Mental health is an increasingly important issue in the UK, with one in four adults diagnosed with a mental health problem and nearly half the population self-reporting experiencing mental illness at some point in their lives.
Although campaigns attempting to start conversations and remove the stigma around mental health have helped in some ways, they have also led to pressure on the NHS, with more and more people turning to health services for support. As more people become willing to seek help, reduced funding to these services means that patients are not being seen quickly enough.
In 2017/18, over 2.5 million people were in contact with specialist mental health services, compared to 1.5 million in 2011/12. Among all groups in UK society, the prevalence of mental health problems has increased in the past two decades, with individuals increasingly affected by economic, social and occupational factors on a day-to-day basis. It is clear that an increase in negative mental wellbeing in the UK needs to factor into the wider context of people's lives in the UK.
8: EDUCATION SPENDING BEING SLASHED
Although there have been promised increases in education spending, critics say they will barely repair the pressure wrought on schools since austerity was introduced. According to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, schools and colleges in England have suffered the worst fall in spending since the 1970s.
The report found that the areas of education hit the hardest by austerity since 2010 were: adult education, further education and skills spending on young people. The government has said it is committed to increasing education spending to £4.3 billion extra a year by 2022 – however, if they actually follow through, this will only just break even on the 8 percent cuts in spending per pupil since 2009.
9: SELLING OFF PUBLIC SPACES TO PAY FOR REDUNDANCIES
Since 2010, funding from central governments to local governments has been cut by 60 percent. In order to plug these funding gaps, local governments have been forced to sell thousands of public spaces, including parks, playgrounds, libraries and community centres.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that over 12,0000 publicly-owned assets, worth £2.8 billion, were sold off by local councils to private owners from 2014 to 2018. Many councils used this money to pay for hundreds of redundancies.
10: CONTINUOUS CUTS TO SOCIAL WELFARE
A decade of austerity has seen social spending on welfare benefits shrink by nearly a quarter, hitting the UK's poorest families and causing a plunge in living standards. These have been cuts to disability benefits, tax credits, universal credit, child benefits, housing benefits, employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit.
A study by the Social Metrics Commission found that more than half of families living below the breadline included at least one person with a disability. With more than 4 million people living in deep poverty in the UK, cuts to social welfare mean this problem will continue to persist. Despite rising prices and living costs, by 2020 there will be £37 billion less spent on working-age social security compared to over a decade ago, according to the House of Commons library.