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Use of public services

Information on who uses public services may be available from administrative records for some services: for instance, school enrolment data may be available from the school system. But this data may be flawed – if spending is allocated to schools on the basis of enrolment rates, they have an incentive to exaggerate enrolment and disregard students who drop out.

Data from household surveys are not subject to that kind of bias, although there may be problems with response rates and misunderstanding of what the data shows. In addition, household surveys may only provide aggregate use by the household, not by each individual in the household. This is the case with many relevant surveys in the UK, so it is not possible to use this data to compare the average usage of women and men, girls and boys directly. However, it is possible to classify households by their characteristics in ways that are useful for gender analysis, for example by comparing use of services by single women and single men, or by lone parents, or by geographic location, wealth and income.

Qualitative research (through semi structured interviews or focus groups for example), can also provide important information about use of services, and the impact of changes to those services in the lives of women. As part of WBG research into the impact of austerity on women, we worked with two civil society partners to carry out focus groups and semi-structured interviews. RECLAIM, a youth charity based in Manchester, a city in the north of England, and Coventry Women’s Voices, a women’s rights organisation based in the midlands. We found that women’s access to one service could depend on the availability of other services. For example, public transport can be important for women’s access to health services:

One time I went [to the healthcare centre] at half past six in the evening and I didn’t leave until quarter to one. I was struggling. I couldn’t get a lift back. There were no buses. I had to get a taxi back home and for me on benefits that is quite a big deal

Focus group participant, Coventry

These interviews and focus groups provided important information, which supported the findings of our distributional cumulative impact analysis of actual and planned cuts to real spending on public services (and social security) in the period 2010 to 2020. For more information see Cumulative Impact Analysis.

Quotes from the focus groups also provided a ‘human face’ to the statistics, which helped in our communications.