Enabling access to quality local public services for all: a precondition to beat inequality

A new PSI-PSIRU policy paper was released today by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the global organisation representing cities and local governments worldwide, as a contribution to the next edition of their flagship publication the GOLD VI Report.

PSI was invited to submit its contribution on the GOLD VI Report’s overarching theme, “Pathways to Urban and Territorial Equality: Addressing inequalities through local transformation strategies” not only from an LRG perspective but also through community-based collective action. GOLD Reports involve and reach thousands of local and regional governments (LRGs) worldwide, providing recommendations for local government policies and actions and influencing global policymaking.

Teaming up with the Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) of the University of Greenwich, PSI has contributed to the international research process bringing to the fore the experience and evidence of its affiliates from a public services and trade union perspective.

Key messages include:

  • Universal access to quality public services is critical to achieve equality, to realize social justice in communities and societies, to promote democracy and to enable people to live safe, meaningful, and dignified lives. COVID-19 has brutally exposed the connection between lack of equitable public service access and inequality.

  • Free, universal access to public health and education alone has a greater equalising effect than progressive taxation and social benefit systems combined, and the equalizing effect of public services is further multiplied for the poor.

  • When public services are publicly run, cross-subsidies and surplus revenues can be invested in the service to expand access, reduce the user price for poorer households and address territorial inequalities, instead of being paid out to shareholders.

  • Equitable access to local quality public services is also a precondition to realize gender equality. When care for the elderly and children is not provided and made accessible through equitable access to public services, instead, the burden of household chores falls disproportionally on women and girls preventing them from fully exercising their right to education, decent employment, and participation in social, civic, political and cultural life.

  • Privatization increases inequality as the private sector can neither deliver public goods, nor provide public services in a universal and stable fashion that is needed to curb inequality.

  • When PS become a commodity and profitability the main goal, unequal access and marginalization of those who cannot afford to pay follow. Poorer urban and rural areas will be left behind.

  • Local authorities, citizens, service users, inhabitants and workers are increasingly de-privatising public services and common resources, returning them under public ownership and control, often encompassing and experimenting mechanisms of democratic governance, accountability and participation.

  • Remunicipalization is a viable and legitimate policy option for LRGs to meet the immediate needs of their communities and territories and to experiment new forms of public service delivery and participation. As of February 2021, the Public Futures global de-privatisation database counted 1,451 verified cases since 2000, of which 974 de-privatizations and 477 municipalizations.

  • The equalizing effect of public services is multiplied when delivered by staff in decent employment conditions with full access to labour and trade union rights, benefitting not only public service user and their communities, but also businesses and the economy as a whole.

  • Adequate, sustainable investment in quality public can effectively break the boundaries of structural, social and economic inequalities embedded in patriarchal, racial and colonial systems. Central governments and international institutions must take responsibility and (re)build their people’s ‘social wage’ by investing in equitable public service access for all.

  • There is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive, systematic and cross-benchmarkable data analysis on the equalizing impact of public services to inform public policies geared at investing and strengthening equitable access to quality public services for all.

The PSI-PSIRU working paper was released during its World Council 2021 as part of the GOLD VI Working Paper Series counting 22 issue-based contributions that will inform the GOLD VI Report due for a November 2022 launch.