Needing support

January 27th, 2016 by Rachael Byrne in Care and Support blog

A woman laughs and looks off camera - Rachael Byrne

The government has not considered the knock-on effects of applying benefits caps to supported housing, says Rachael Byrne

I always love to see supported housing make the front page of Inside Housing. Unfortunately, it was with a heavy heart when I read the piece ‘Supported housing reaches the brink, on January 15. 

I’m prepared to give government the benefit of the doubt.

They have undertaken to get the cost of housing benefit down with a scheme to equalise levels of spending between what’s available in the private rented sector, and the rest is superficially attractive.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) pockets a significant saving by 2020, yet all isn’t as it seems. Changes to the Local Housing Allowance will have consequences for the ongoing viability of supported housing. 

A funding model under pressure from additional employment costs and prices already squeezed by cash-strapped local authority commissioners will be irrevocably broken. As Tony Stacey has said in Inside Housing previously, this has the potential to be a full-blown care crisis. 

“With A&E admissions at record levels …, [the NHS] would struggle to cope with the further surge in demand if tens of thousands of vulnerable people have nowhere else to present.”

The joint working group set up to look at this involving the Department for Communities and Local Government and the DWP is a welcome step, but it is missing the input of the department with the most to lose if this goes ahead unchanged. I’ve spoken with health figures who are concerned. The Department of Health ought to be formally included.

With A&E admissions at record levels and delayed discharge levels now at 160,000 bed days lost per month, it would struggle to cope with the further surge in demand if tens of thousands of vulnerable people have nowhere else to present. 

Things won’t be much better for local government either. It’s getting the freedom to raise an additional 2%, but will struggle to meet the demographic shift let alone do more. 

At Home Group, our services are predominantly commissioned by our local authority partners. My prediction is that many providers won’t bid for the tenders when they come up. The changes, if not amended, will make the delivery of these services unviable. 

For local government, many of the services are statutory so it has no choice but to provide them. Does it have the capacity and expertise to bring these services back in house? 

Much has been made of ‘Life Chances’ by the prime minister and others. But what does it mean for the lives of those suffering from domestic violence, poor mental health and drug or alcohol addiction. 

There is an easy way for this to be avoided. The mooted mitigation of an increase in discretionary housing payments would be a sticking plaster, not a fix.

Supported housing reduces the demand for other government services and delivers real taxpayer value. That ought to be recognised by an exemption from the cap.

The contribution of supported housing to communities and vulnerable people would be a better front page than one that speaks of our sector’s demise.

This article originally appeared in Inside Housing.