IFG - Revealed: The true scale and severity of the problems facing the next government

From: Think Tanks
Published: Fri Jun 07 2024

To provide a credible vision for the country, the parties' manifestos must set out a plan to address the challenges the country is facing

A new Institute for Government report lays bare the scale and severity of the problems facing whichever party wins the general election.

Published today, General Election 2024: The Precarious State of the State reveals - with new analysis - how underperforming public services, battered public finances, tensions within the Union, and a fragile civil service will dominate and define the first years of the next government, if not the entire parliament.

The new IfG paper warns that to provide a credible vision for the country, the parties' manifestos must set out a plan to address these challenges. Many, such as rescuing services on the brink of collapse or facing another winter crisis, require urgent action. Almost all, including boosting regional growth and strengthening the Union, will require reform over at least the next Parliament.
Without an honest reckoning with the problems the next government will inherit - or resume responsibility for - from the minute it takes office, the visions they are selling to voters are simply not achievable.

Most public services are performing worse than at the time of the 2019 election and substantially worse than in 2010

  • Hospital performance is arguably the worst in the NHS's history: waiting times have been the longest on record, and targets for elective care, A&E and cancer treatment have not been met since 2016. 1.5 million people waited more than 12 hours in A&Es in 2023/24 - more than triple the number in 2019.
  • Prisons are at a crisis point, with potential for capacity to be exceeded soon after the election, forcing further early releases of prisoners and delayed court cases. Despite this, funding is set to fall by 5.9% each year relative to demand in the next parliament.
  • Current spending plans assume further cuts to the precarious criminal justice system, minimal change in schools or local government, and minor improvements in health.

Growth has stagnated, tax and spend levels are historically high, and spending assumptions are implausible

  • Standards of living have fallen since 2019 and will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
  • The pandemic response, amongst other things, means government debt, tax and spend are all higher than for decades.
  • Fiscal headroom - to spend on public services or government programmes - is tight, and predicated on delivering further cuts and unrealistic assumptions. 

The civil service is fragile after years of crisis management

  • For the first time since 2007, the government employs more than half a million civil servants.
  • Turnover of civil servants was at record high in 2021/22, but improved slightly last year.
  • Morale has fallen since 2020 following steady improvement in the 2010s.

Devolution has taken important steps in recent years, particularly in England. But the long-term future of the union remains uncertain

  • Major cities outside of London are much less productive than their international comparators, with Greater Manchester and the West Midlands being more than 10% below the national average.
  • Future of the Union remains a live debate - support for Scottish independence hovers around 50% and an increasing number of people in Northern Ireland favour Irish reunification.
  • Relations between the UK and devolved governments have worsened since 2016, particularly due to Brexit and the handling of the pandemic.

Emma Norris, IfG deputy director, said:

“Few newly elected prime ministers will have had to take on such a long and painful list of problems. Many will require immediate attention, not least to rescue services on the brink of collapse. Almost all - from stagnant growth to a fragile civil service - will require serious reform over the next parliament and beyond.”

Company: Think Tanks

Visit website »