Ghoulish images of sword thrusts and carved-up carcasses have dominated coverage of the comprehensive spending review.
These portray it as a set of separate attacks on departmental or organisational budgets, to be dealt with in bits. They can even be ranked according to the pain suffered, with Communities and Local Government top of the list with a real four-year cut of 51 per cent, including a 28 per cent cut to local government; then come Defra with a 29 per cent cut and the DCMS with a 24 per cent cut.
These images mask the fact that the impact of the cuts on those most in need will not be experienced in parts, but cumulatively and holistically. The needs of the most marginalised cannot be compartmentalised; when you are living on the edge, destabilisation in one part of your life can destabilise another. Families that have to move because of social housing finance caps or unemployment might lose the circle of neighbours, schools and part-time jobs that support their fragile lives. Increased poverty, domestic tension and mental health problems are an almost inevitable result, with drugs and alcohol problems not far away.
The need for joined-up services will never be greater. Time and again, severe cases such as Victoria Climbie and Baby P occur where services are not joined up, families not integrated and evidence of problems in one area not linked to those in another.
The fragmented budgets of voluntary organisations have never made it easy to integrate services, and the subsectors with budgets at risk have some of the riskiest and most vulnerable client groups. But organisations might find they are increasingly facing clients whose needs have become exacerbated and more difficult to deal with by other problems they now also have. The Supporting People funding scheme is intended to allow packages of different support to be paid for from integrated budgets, including flexible, 'floating' support to people in their homes. This programme is set to lose 11.5 per cent of its budget.
As voluntary organisations struggle with their own spending cut, they will be challenged as never before with clients whose support systems have broken down and whose needs are multiplying. In addressing the challenges of transition and reconfiguration over the next few months, is there an opportunity for the voluntary sector to rethink how to pick up the challenges of integrating their resources and services to offer more holistic help to those caught in cycles of deprivation?
- Cathy Pharoah is professor of charity funding at Cass Business School