5 minute read

The government should look beyond physical infrastructure as it seeks to stimulate demand in the economy. Investing in local services and the people that run them would provide valuable jobs and training opportunities whilst also improving social outcomes and reducing deprivation, helping the UK to be more resilient to the shocks of the future.

As the UK looks for a way out of the Covid-19 crisis, infrastructure investment is at the top of the agenda. This week, the Chancellor announced his intention to create jobs by investing in shovel-ready projects and last week, the Prime Minister was talking about a Roosevelt style New Deal for the British people, albeit with a fraction of the investment. Mostly, they are talking about physical infrastructure projects like rebuilding schools and updating roads. But there are also signs that social infrastructure is creeping up the agenda, with a promise to 'build up people' as well as buildings and an invitation from the Prime Minister to his former political secretary Danny Kruger to propose how the UK can capitalise on the momentum of community spirit and social solidarity during lockdown.

The term social infrastructure refers to the systems required to meet local and strategic needs and contribute towards a good quality of life. They comprise of a combination of facilities, people and services; adult education centres, early years teachers and stop smoking programmes are all part of it. Buildings like hospitals and schools are also social infrastructure but they are not the most important element– state of the art facilitates are pointless if they stand empty, and services cannot run within them without a motivated, well trained workforce. Many of our hospitals and schools do need upgrading, but these projects could take years and may not directly improve health or educational outcomes. Investing in services, and the people that run them, could both provide jobs and help prevent Covid-19 from worsening deprivation now.

Across the country, local services such as youth work have been reduced to a bare minimum, compounding the inequalities between people and places, with former red wall areas faring particularly badly. CPP found that community spending fell drastically in the decade leading up to the Covid-19 crisis - dropping by 60%, double the fall in overall local authority spend. This measure of council spending included youth services, Sure Start, open spaces, sports and library services. The cuts were accompanied by a fall in civic action across every English region, suggesting that community spending is essential for crowding in wider civic participation.

Social infrastructure investment is needed to tackle endemic deprivation in Red Wall constituencies that voted Conservative in 2019[1]

Infrastructure type

Outcome measure

England average

Conservative red wall average

Difference compared to England average

Skills

Percentage who attained Level 3 at 19 (2018)

57

53

-7%

Health

Healthy life expectancy at birth (2016-18)

64

61

-5%

Mental health

Suicide, rate per 100,000 (2016-18)

9.6

10.5

9%

Early years

Percentage achieving a GLD at end EYFS, (2019)

72

70

-2%

Social care

Looked after children, rate per 10,000, (2019)

65

87

34%

Investment in a combination of relational services and human capital - training people to become community mental health nurses, early years teachers and professional youth workers - would have both social and economic returns. Reflecting on the Public Services 2020 Commission, which ran between 2008 and 2010, Lord Victor Adebowale said they had seen the role of the state as being “to stimulate the creation of social value and to ensure fairness in its distribution”. Investment in social infrastructure could do just that, increasing the health and skill levels of more deprived sections of the population and reducing place-based inequalities in line with the government’s levelling up agenda. Alongside its social value, CPP has illustrated that social infrastructure investment can have large productivity returns, for instance MHCLG evaluations of the ‘Troubled Families’ programme found it to deliver £2.28 of economic benefits for every £1 spent.

This summer, CPP will be exploring the case for investment in areas like youth services and public health and touching on some principles for their delivery, through a series of blogs. The series will break down what it means to invest in different types of social infrastructure and highlight the shovel ready projects that the government could invest in, now, to both lift us out of the current crisis and ensure that places are more prepared for shocks in the future.

Notes


[1]
CPP analysis based on ONS and DfE statistics. Conservative Red Wall average includes 44 constituencies in the Midlands and the North of England whose elected representative changed from Labour to Conservative in 2019. Data is based on the local authority in which most of the constituency population live.