Fair public services

High quality public services are an integral part of any strategy to end child poverty. All too often, however, people living in poverty who need the most support receive a worse service than others. There are a number of reasons for this including:

  • Funding. Patterns of resourcing are often rooted in history and are seldom transparent or easy to shift. This means that services in poorer areas often receive less funding than is intended for them. One study shows, for example, that GP practices in deprived areas received 2 per cent less than the money earmarked for them.
  • Staffing. Better funded programmes often attract better qualified staff. As a result, poorer areas can suffer from lower quality service delivery than wealthier neighbourhoods.
  • Demand. More highly educated and affluent people tend to be better at getting the best from public services. In addition, they can pay to increase their access through, for example, moving into the catchment area of better performing schools.
  • Fatalism. Both service providers and service users in poor areas can become fatalistic about the quality of services, or the likely impact of this. This may result, for example, in teachers having lower expectations of how well students from poorer backgrounds will do.

The current government rhetoric which blames low-income families for living in poverty risks undermining the impartiality of universal public services further. If the myth that it is behaviour which leads to poverty is further legitimated, it would not be surprising if access to services was limited for those deemed ‘undeserving’.

As a result, CPAG believes it is essential to maintain a rights-based approach to public services. Transparency and clear rules, backed up by good quality, independent advice, are vital if poorer users are to access and monitor universal public services effectively. In addition, past experience shows targeting services at low-income groups risks creating a two-tier system: services for poor people tend to become poor services. Instead, a more effective model, harnessing the power of more affluent service users to maximise the quality of services while ensuring that they do not overly dominate access.