The Lottery of Government Funding Cuts: Mental Health Crisis in Leicester

DECEMBER UPDATE: According to the minutes of the Adult Social Care Scrutiny Commission (December 12, 2016): “The Deputy City Mayor had met with the Chief Executive for Network for Change and had encouraged the organisation to make an application for support from the Council’s VCS Urgent Support Fund, Since then, the application had been received and formally approved.”

The National Lottery, alongside providing a glimmer of hope for many of its regular and heavily indebted players, is also used to support good-causes across Britain. So in addition to raking in handsome profits for Camelot Group plc, the lottery acts as a regressive form of taxation, providing desperately needed funding for causes that should really be funded by the government.

Lottery grant “spending is, at best, only weakly correlated to high levels of deprivation.” This was the conclusion reached by Paul Bickley’s 2009 review of the history of lottery funding, which goes on to add that “Other analyses have found [lottery grant-giving] to be focused on affluent, urban, white, well-educated areas.” The study thus concluded: “The good cause funding created by Lottery play is disproportionately drawn from the less affluent, yet it is not spent for their benefit.” (Paul Bickley, The National Lottery: Is it Progressive?, Theos, 2009.)

Lottery funding for local projects, although significant, is problematic for other reasons too, particularly because it does not represent a secure source of revenue. The total money available for good causes varies considerably from year to year. In 2013 the National Lottery distributed just over £2.2 billion across the UK, this then decreased to £1.8 billion the following year, falling again to just below £1.6 billion in 2015.

Similarly, no part of the country is guaranteed the same level of funding each year, which makes it impossible to rely upon lottery grants to sustain an organization. In Leicester our city received £34 million via lottery grants in 1998, while the next year it obtained just short of £9 million. This highly unreliable funding stream then peaked at £26 million in 2004 but dropped again to £2 million in 2010.

Since then, annual National Lottery funding for Leicester has inched up to £10.7 million in 2014, but last year it plunged again to £8 million. These wild and totally unpredictable fluctuations in grant-giving can have disastrous consequences for those charitable groups reliant upon such funding.

Local Leicester charity, Network For Change, which supports adults with mental health problems is just one such group to suffer from the vagaries of lottery grants. Earlier this month, the staff of this critically important service felt forced to write a letter to the Leicester Mercury (“Mental health services face axe,” October 12) pleading for financial support from the public after noting they were “at risk of closure after failing to secure a lottery grant to continue [their] vital work.” The centre explained:

“Voluntary and charitable organisations provide flexible, cost-effective services which can prevent relapse and crisis and give people hope and purpose in their lives, yet funding for this preventative work is at an all-time low, squeezed to breaking point by this Government’s austerity measures.”

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Funding for mental health services should not be provided by the anarchy of lotteries, but through stable, democratically allocated public funding. Unfortunately, however, even council funding is increasingly hard to come by. This is because Labour controlled councils fail to oppose Tory austerity.

Instead of pleading that their hands are tied and that they cannot fight back, Labour councils across the country must unite in defiance of Tory austerity. Now more than ever adopting such a combative stance should be an urgent priority for local Labour councils. This is because the principled leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has made it very clear that Tory “austerity is a political choice” – and one that is bringing reck and ruin to working class communities.

A perfect illustration of what happens when councils don’t fight back is provided by Leicester City Council’s current proposal to halve the funding they provide to our city’s ten adventure playgrounds – an action which will no doubt result in their closures. But instead of taking the battle to the Tories for more funding, all that the Labour Council are presently doing is saying they will help the playgrounds fill in application forms for lottery funding.

This is clearly not a solution by any stretch of the imagination. As Leicester Play Fair chairman Kevin Sherriff explained: “The council says it will help us apply for lottery funding but that won’t get us money for staffing.” (“More than 3,000 sign petition against Leicester Adventure Playground budget cuts,Leicester Mercury, October 15)

What the people of Leicester need right now is Government funding for local services derived from a progressive taxation system, one in which the super-rich are punished (dare I say imprisoned) if they continue to evade tax. The Tories will not give us this money without a fight, so in the meantime the Labour Party must pick up the mantle of resistance and force the Tories to return the money they have stolen (and continue to steal) from our city.

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