The pandemic has created huge backlogs in elective care, criminal court cases, referrals to children’s social care and school learning – and failing to address these backlogs now will push up costs in future.
Performance Tracker 2021, published with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, assesses how nine public services in England – hospitals, GPs, adult social care, police, criminal courts, prisons, schools, children’s social care and neighbourhood services – have coped with the coronavirus crisis and what pressures they are expected to face over the next three years. The chancellor has already allocated extra money to help the NHS tackle backlogs, but the report says the government must consider using the spending review to allocate funds to help other key backlogged services.
The report shows that:
- In August 2021, there were 5.7 million people waiting for elective operations, longer than at any point since at least 2007.
- There were 58,000 criminal court cases waiting to be heard at the end of May 2021. 40% of cases had been waiting to be heard for more than six months at the end of March 2021, compared to 25% at the end of December 2019.
- Local authorities have been unable to identify, assess and support children as quickly as they ordinarily would. There were 252,000 referrals to children’s social care between April 2020 and July 2021 – 11% fewer than the average of the same weeks between 2017 and 2020.
- At the end of the spring 2021 term, primary school pupils were on average two months behind in reading and three months behind in maths.
Despite government spending an extra £155bn to support public services across the UK in 2020/21 and 2021/22, some services – notably schools and local authorities – did not receive enough money to cover their extra costs and have entered the recovery in a worse financial position. But, after accounting for money allocated to the NHS, defence and overseas aid, social care, schools, and the additional coronavirus spending, the money left for other ‘unprotected’ public services will be 2.3% lower in real terms in 2022/23, and 1.5% lower in 2023/24, than in 2020/21 – making it harder for staff to address backlogs.