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Public sector wellbeing budgets being ‘decimated’, says Cooper

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Health and wellbeing budgets have been ‘decimated’ throughout the public sector in recent years, one of the UK’s leading wellbeing experts has warned.

Speaking at the launch of the Health at Work Policy Unit, Cary Cooper said he has witnessed a drop in demand for services from the public sector since George Osborne’s austerity cuts.

Cooper, one of the top academics on organisational psychology and health, is co-founder of consultancy Robertson Cooper, which provides advice to many public sector bodies on how they can improve staff health and wellbeing.

“Eighty per cent of our clients were in the public sector prior to the recession. Here’s the irony: 95% of our clients now are in the private sector. Budgets in the public sector, in the health and wellbeing arena especially, have been decimated,” he said.

“So we have very few clients. And the only way we can do it for them is very cheaply because they have almost no budget.”

The public sector has undergone deep funding cuts in recent years under George Osborne’s austerity measures. According to the Guardian, the NHS suffered £20 billion cuts, followed by housing (£5.8 billion), disability services (£4.4 billion) and local government administration (£3.4 billion). Many other public services have been slashed by hundreds of millions of pounds, while mental health services have received a 15% cut.

Positive signs from the top

Speaking at the same event, Dame Carol Black, the principal of Newnham College, University of Cambridge and a government adviser on work and health, said she saw positive signs that public sector chiefs are taking wellbeing seriously.

“Recently we’ve been really engaging with the police service and the fire service," she said. "There actually is a real interest from the top to do something about this and I think it does come back to leadership. There is change in their attitude and a real desire to do this.

“Simon Reeves, the CEO of the NHS, is certainly interested in this area...he’s going to have a real push on the health and wellbeing of the service.”

Cooper agreed there was goodwill at the top, but this was being undermined by a lack of funding.

“The people at the top really want to do stuff, however the health and wellbeing budgets have been decimated throughout the whole service, and that’s my real worry with most of the public sector. It’s not that they don't want to, they don’t have the money,” he said.