How the government is reducing citizen protection – What we buy

28th August 2019 / United Kingdom
How the government is reducing citizen protection - What we buy

There are a number of bodies which protect consumers by intercepting or testing dodgy products, catching rogue traders, and cracking down on fraud and scams. Trading Standards teams, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, and the Serious Fraud Office all contribute to protecting the integrity of what we buy. Citizens Advice provides people with advice on money, legal or consumer problems. The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes people for different types of crime, including fraud and economic crime. Citizen protections systems are vital for a thriving economy.

Strong rules help to make sure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is clean, that our food is safe and correctly labelled, our natural spaces are being looked after, and the products we buy are safe. Strong rules protect the most vulnerable in society and provide a level playing-field for British businesses. They allow us to get on with all the things we want to do in life, secure in the knowledge that ourselves and our loved ones are safe. They are part of what we have come to expect, and it’s common sense to maintain them. But over the years, the agencies which enforce the rules have had their budgets substantially reduced.

Strapped for cash and short on staff, many watchdogs no longer have the tools for the important jobs they do. Most businesses take pride in acting responsibly and fairly. But, left unchecked, rogue operators are free to undermine the protections that we take for granted.

Unchecked is a new campaign which investigates the UK’s shrinking enforcement capacity and exposes the real-world costs of the failure to properly enforce the rules.

In this article, we are focusing on the products we buy and what effects the constant erosion of funding into these critical protection agencies and services have.


Protecting consumers: money and manpower

  • Total Local Authority Trading Standards staff fell by 56%
  • From 2010/11 to 2016/17, funding for Local Authority Trading Standards services in England, Wales & Scotland fell by around 46%
  • From 2013/14 to 2016/17, funding for National Trading Standards fell by 8%
  • The Serious Fraud Office’s funding fell by 27%
  • Citizens Advice’s total funding fell by 22%
  • Total Citizens Advice access-points fell by 23%
  • The number of local Citizens Advice Bureau offices fell by 26%
  • The Crown Prosecution Service’s budget fell by 41% • Crown Prosecution Service staff numbers fell by 34%


Enforcement activity

  • Total net spend by Local Authorities on trading standards services in England fell by 51%
  • From 2013-2018 39% of councils in the UK analysed no samples for hazardous chemicals
  • From 2014/15 to 2016/17, the number of scam investigations commenced by National Trading Standards fell by 24%
  • From 2014/15 to 2016/17 new National Trading Standards investigations into illegal moneylending fell by 21%
  • From 2014/15 to 2016/7 National Trading Standards prosecutions of illegal moneylenders fell by 81%
  • Convictions by the Serious Fraud Office fell by 41% • Raids carried out by the Serious Fraud Office fell by 79%
  • On average, Local Authorities in England and Wales issue less than one prosecution for doorstep crime each year.


In the last decade, the number of alerts in the EU safety system for extremely unsafe products has risen by 34 per cent and National Trading Standards scam investigations fell by 24 per cent in just two years.


Overall Summary

From 2009/10 to 2016/17, real-terms funding for the environmental and social protection work of ten key national regulators1 fell on average by 50%.

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The total number of full-time staff working at these regulators fell by 30% in this period.

From 2009/10 to 2016/17, spending by Local Authorities and fire authorities in England on key services2 which protect the health and wellbeing of citizens and the environment fell on average by 35%.

These citizen protection systems were originally set up to ensure the general public were protected against basic harms. As these reports show, the government is drastically reducing these systems as it advances a more unrestrained free-market ideology.


Read the full REPORT HERE




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