Spending cuts have hit the poorest parts of England and Scotland much harder than more affluent areas, according to research published on Thursday.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which analysed the 30 per cent real terms cut in local government spending between 2008 and 2015, said the North and Midlands are suffering more than the south, with deprived areas left about £100 per person worse off.
Researchers warned that cash-strapped councils will end up serving only the neediest fraction of the population. "As a result, the willingness of those who do not rely on council services for the majority of their needs to pay for council services relied on almost exclusively by the poor could be undermined," the report added.
John Low, the JRF’s policy and research manager, said: "Unless we can muster the national will to correct or mitigate the unacceptable divergence of resources between more and less affluent authorities, we are slowly but inexorably creating a more divided society."
The largest factor was the reduction, scrapping or merging of many specific central government grants, which targeted deprived areas. Councils in poor areas saw their spending power drop by 21 per cent, while in affluent areas it fell by 16 per cent.
Town hall spending on education fell in England because money was channelled into the Government’s flagship academies policy. Culture, the environment and planning saw larger cuts, along with transport and housing.
The divide was confirmed in a separate report by the Audit Commission spending watchdog published on Thursday, which said that almost half (49 per cent ) of councils covering the 20 per cent most deprived areas faced cuts of more than 15 per cent since 2010. Fewer than one in ten local authorities (eight per cent) of authorities in the best-off areas suffered reductions on such a scale, it said.
Brandon Lewis, the Local Government Minister, insisted that deprived areas continue to receive and spend far more money per household than other parts of the country. “Rather than the doom and gloom peddled by the JRF, the latest independent polling shows that the public are more satisfied with town hall services than ever before,” he said.