John McKendrick

Austerity’s impact on Scotland Professor John McKendrick describes one example of GCU's research that aims to inform the work of practitioners and campaigners who seek to tackle poverty in Scotland and the UK

The combined impact of the economic recession, slow economic recovery, sustained government spending cuts, and welfare reform have together impacted on already disadvantaged communities and groups within society.

A team of GCU researchers have looked at how cuts to public services and changes to welfare provision are making living in some communities more and more challenging and redistributing risk from state to individuals and communities.

Recent publications have focused on how austerity measures may be viewed as mechanisms by which existing social and societal risks are intensified. As the responsibility of the state shrinks, increased responsibilities for dealing with social risks are placed with local communities – as a result of this there is a shift of responsibility away from collectives to individuals.

However, this increased responsibility for dealing with social risks has been placed with individuals and communities regardless of their ability or capacity to absorb them. This can affect, in particular, older people, lone parents and people experiencing in-work poverty

Risk shift

Recent welfare reform and public service spending cuts are the most visible policy-driven contributing factors to risk redistribution in Scotland, creating a longer-term ‘risk shift’. The rapid pace of change has led to a heightened sense of insecurity for vulnerable individuals and communities.

Professor John McKendrick said ‘At all levels – that is, UK government, Scottish government, local government, and communities – there is a need to adopt or strengthen analysis of the cumulative risk impact of policy changes, in the context of wider societal and socio-economic trends, to ascertain, and if necessary thereafter to ameliorate, any deleterious impact of shifting risk onto the most vulnerable groups in society.”

Current risk shifts coincide with significant social changes. In particular, it is projected that between 2010 and 2035 the number of adults living alone in Scotland will increase from 863,000 (37% of all households) to over 1.29 million (45% of households). This is attributable, in part, to a projected 63% increase in the population of pensionable age (65 plus) and a projected 51% increase in the number of lone parent households (National Records of Scotland, 2014).

These demographic changes will have significant implications for the capacity of vulnerable communities to handle risk. An ageing population and rise in lone parent households will create more pressures on intergenerational support, both financial and in-kind. At the same time, population ageing will create its own new demands (e.g. for healthcare and social support). Increased numbers of adults living alone may exacerbate isolation (Age UK, 2010) and some traditional sources of informal social support (e.g. older family members) may shift from being providers to recipients of such support in future. Such changes will place more demands on public services at a time when provision is contracting.

Attempts have been made to mitigate the impact of new risk exposure at local and Scottish national government levels; overall, the Scottish government has emphasised the importance of prevention policies and has invested in more of these than other devolved administrations in the UK.

Sustainable Development Goals