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Which public services face the biggest pressures ahead of the spending round?

Adult social care and prisons are most in need of money to restore performance

Repeatedly delayed and now only covering a single year, rather than the planned three, today’s spending round will see the government set out its spending plans for 2020/21. Much like the recently-announced Queen’s Speech, this looks to be part of preparations for a potentially imminent election campaign.

After nine years of austerity, all major public services face some pressures – from a rising number of vacancies for children’s social workers, to falling retention rates among teachers – but the extent of service deterioration, and the size of the challenge to maintain current performance, varies significantly.

Deciding what the scope of public services should be is an inherently political choice – there are trade-offs to be made between the quality and availability of services and levels of taxation. Last year, the government announced that “the era of austerity is finally coming to an end”. If ending austerity means reversing some or all of the decline in the quality and availability of public services since 2010, our analysis shows that adult social care and prisons are most in need of additional money because they have seen the largest declines in performance.

However, government briefings so far suggest that this is not how the chancellor is likely to prioritise the money for next year. While the government has indicated that it will provide some additional funding for prisons, other spending boosts are likely to focus on electorally popular services, such as hospitals, schools and the police.

Hospitals, schools and police will certainly benefit from extra funding given the pressures they face – but they are not the services that have experienced the sharpest declines in performance since 2010.

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