Cuts increase risk to public in England and Wales

UNISON report shows how austerity is damaging the environmental health service provided by councils

Public health is being put at risk by continued austerity and cuts, says a new UNISON report on environmental health in England and Wales.

In November and December last year, the union sent Freedom of Information requests to all 374 local authorities in the two countries (197 answered), as well as surveying members working in environmental health.

Comparing the results with comparable figures from 2009, when councils last answered a UNISON freedom of information request on the same issue, shows that:

  • environmental health budgets per head of population have more than halved over the past decade (falling by 52.92% between 2009 and 2018);
  • enforcement visits by environmental health officers have fallen by nearly a half (a 49.05% drop over the decade, while ‘programmed inspections’ – or announced visits to business – have fallen by 40.95% over the same time.

In the words of the report: “Environmental health services have been cut to the bone. Officers are seeing more non-compliance with the law, which leads to more serious consequences.

“New businesses are being left without preventative guidance, allowing some to develop bad habits that are creating risks for the public.”

Overall, says the report, “preventative work is greatly reduced”.

This means that, instead of problems being stopped from happening, environmental health department are having to concentrate on minimising a problem after it happens.

Download the report: Environmental health – how cuts are putting individuals and communities at risk