Deficit reduction policies in European countries are summarised by the BBC at www.bbc.co.uk/news/10162176. Below is a selection of recent press coverage about the impact of spending cuts on social services in Poland, Ireland, France, Serbia and UK.
Although Poland is one of the brightest stars of the EU economy for the moment, having not experienced a recession so far, Polish social services are also affected by expenditure cuts. According to GazetaPrawna (Legal Gazette), Polish counties, which are responsible for disability policy, will receive 13% less money this year than in 2010 (or 41% less than in a good year of 2008). This cut is likely to affect the activity of occupational therapy workshops, co-funding of assistive equipment, access to rehabilitation centres and the removal of architectural barriers. As reported by the director of Social Assistance Centre in Lodz, it will further reduce the capacity of the local public services to answer the needs of the population: ‘Already now we are only able to cover some 15-20% needs of our disabled clients’. Read more about this in Polish here.
In Ireland, the Irish Times looks back at 2010 for its health and social services and ahead to the 2011 budget in two articles. Ireland’s national health and social care agency, the Health Service Executive (HSE) is set to absorb a 6.2% cut to its budget in 2011, having already made a 5% cut in 2010 compared to the previous year. Part of these savings will come from a voluntary redundancy scheme, which almost 3000 staff are reported to have accepted, saving some €100 million per year. State-funded home help hours had been reduced in 2010, especially in the west of the country, but will not be cut further this year. State funding for nursing home places is being halved. There was moderately good news for users of mental health services, which will see a below-average 1.8% reduction in this year’s funding. More on these issues in Irish Times here and here.
In Serbia, the financial crisis is reported to have left more then half a million people hungry, especially farmers, those less educated, pensioners older than 65, children younger than 14, and large families. During the crisis, the number of poor increased by 100,000, or 20 percent during the crisis. This situation is further aggravated by the closure of soup kitchens, in the rural areas. The Red Cross extended the support to some of the kitchens, like in Kursumlija, but it only did so from their reserves and will not be able to sustain it in 2011. Red Cross is appealing to the government to react. "Poverty has increased since 2009, and further increased last year. According to the estimates for the first half of 2010, 650,000 people could not even meet even basic needs” says GordanaMatković, President’s advisor on social affairs. More on poverty in Serbian here, more on the farmers’ struggles here.
In France, long-term ageing trends are bringing their pressure to bear on the public finances, leading to further reforms. Le Monde says that the country’s spending on its ‘personal autonomy allowance’ has multiplied by 2.5 times to €5.1 billion since its introduction in 2002. The average payment to the 1.13 million of citizens over 60 is around €670 a month at home or €200 in a care home; the number of recipients of the allowance is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2025. France’s départements (county-level authorities) shoulder a large burden in managing the allowance, but lack compensation for this from central government. But this isn’t the only budget line for covering the cost of ‘dependency’ or ‘old age’: in total, public expenditure on this area is around €21 billion according to a study by the French Senate. Le Monde says that the government will have to act soon to plug the funding gap created by ever-increasing number of citizens entitled to the allowance and the shrinking State, health insurance and département budgets. More on this story here.
In the United Kingdom, the Guardian also reported on the impact of service cuts at the interface between health and social services. Senior hospital doctors have been polled recently about the problem of being unable to move older people out of hospital after treatment, because help at home or a place in a care home is unavailable. 50% said the problem of bed blocking was worse now than a year ago and that recent cuts to local council social services budgets were exacerbating the problem. Nigel Edwards of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, commented: “This is something we've been worrying about. There was a big improvement in this four or five years ago. But over the last few years there's been a feeling that in some places the situation has deteriorated again.” Reacting to this, the Department of Health said it was making an extra £162m available between now and the start of April to help patients leave hospital sooner and live independently at home. You can read more on the bed blocking here.