‘Silo thinking’ among public sector bodies has been blamed by international experts as one of the key obstacles to tackling poverty and climate change.
A report published today by the Poverty Environment Partnership, entitled Getting to Zero, warns environmental targets agreed last year by world leaders in Paris last year will not be met unless individual organisations work together.
The report, which has been published ahead of the United Nations’ Political Forum, claims too many environment, poverty and climate change policies are developed in silos, even at a local level.
‘Poverty and environment are deeply local in their expression, if not always in their causes, and there is a need for local actors to work together,’ it states.
‘Local government and civil society are critical for devising and delivering solutions.’
In the UK, climate and change and poverty initiatives can be delivered by a variety of different bodies.
Within Whitehall, there are still separate departments for health, energy and local government. There was speculation last year that the Department for Energy and Climate Change could either be scrapped or subsumed into another ministry, but it remains to be scene whether the new prime minister, Theresa May will want to reform the civil service.
Away from Westminster, there was hope when local authorities take over responsibility for public health in 2013 that this would herald a new era of joined-up services. Although chancellor George’s Osborne’s decision to cut public health budgets by £200m last year angered many.
However, the government’s current devolution agenda does offer local authorities a chance to break down some of the barriers in the public sector. But while many of the current deals – such as Greater Manchester have commitments to bring health and social care services together, very few (if any) mention the environment.
The director of the New Local Government Network (NLGN), Simon Parker, said the ongoing austerity cuts are ‘forcing different parts of the public sector to tear down the barriers between them and work together to prevent illness, drive growth and get people into work’.
‘We increasingly recognise that social and environmental problems are deeply interrelated,’ said Mr Parker. ‘You can only tackle poverty if you improve education, raise productivity and create a business-friendly environment.
‘We’re starting to recognise that the same is true for sustainability. Pollution isn’t just a climate issue, but a healthcare one, because air pollution causes asthma and drives people into GP surgeries and hospitals.
‘The key to collaborating on these issues is to map out the underlying drivers of public sector costs and identify the places where changes in behaviour combine with relatively small investments today to deliver major benefits five or 10 years down the line,’ added Mr Parker.
‘The challenge might be to reframe environmentalism in particular as a way to reduce long term costs for government, by reducing illness, providing affordable energy to tackle fuel poverty and building stronger communities around activities like food growing.’
Speaking in Birmingham on Monday, before it was announced that she would become the next prime minister, Theresa May pledged ‘a plan to help not one or even two of our great regional cities, but every single one of them’.
Time will tell if this includes breaking down the barriers between the UK’s institutions and putting poverty and climate change at the top of the agenda.