Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Supporting supported housing

More than 700,000 people in the UK live in, and benefit from, the supported housing sector. By 2010, we probably need another 35,000 places.

Most of this is sheltered accommodation for older people, but it also includes housing for people with learning and physical disabilities, individuals at risk of homelessness, refuges for women and children at risk of domestic violence. Currently, a quarter of referrals to refuges for women and children at risk of domestic violence are refused, because of a lack of available space.

In September 2016, the Government announced proposals for funding changes which would come into effect from April 2019. Under the new model, core rent and service charges would be funded through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, whilst any costs above the Local Housing Allowance rate would have to come from a ring-fenced budget allocated by local councils.

The all-party Communities and Local Government (which I chair) and Work and Pensions Committees launched a joint inquiry 1 to scrutinise these proposals. During our inquiry, we heard directly from
  • supported housing residents, who told us how much they valued the independence and improved quality of life which supported housing gives them; and
  • providers, who described the threats to future supply.
We agree the need to find a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism that ensures quality, provides value for money, and which protects and boosts the supply of supported housing. But we concluded that the government’s proposals are unlikely to achieve those objectives.

We have made some alternative recommendations, recognising the diversity of provision that is required. We also recommend that emergency accommodation and refuges have different funding mechanisms that reflect their unique roles.

Supported accommodation makes a significant contribution to adult social care. The government has made, and continues to make, a complete pig’s ear of funding adult social care, creating crises in the NHS and quite unacceptable situations for elderly citizens and their families.

The government is in serious danger of adding to the problem. It needs to change its proposals if it is to secure sustainable, high-quality housing supporting independence and a good quality of life for those in need.

1 Future of supported housing https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmcomloc/867/867.pdf

Monday, 8 May 2017

A breach of trust

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the current government’s failure to keep to the spirit, let alone the letter, of the Armed Forces Covenant.

Developed in 2000, the Covenant sets out the duties owed by government and society to those serving in our military services and to their families. When Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson – who has just announced his resignation from Parliament – ensured, for the first time, that veterans received priority treatment on the NHS on their return from active service.

I contrasted the excellent progress in implementing the Covenant by South Yorkshire councils, despite unprecedented budget cuts, with the position nationally. Last year, the Forces’ charity SSAFA found that just 16% of veterans thought that the Covenant was being implemented effectively.

I said that nothing better illustrated the government’s failure to implement the Covenant than the state of housing for forces’ families.

Just 50% of forces families are satisfied with the standards of management and maintenance of their homes. Satisfaction with the response to requests for repairs dropped 10 percent compared to the previous year and that 52% of personnel in SFA are dissatisfied with the quality of repairs. By contrast, the tenants of councils and other social housing providers typically report satisfaction levels over 85%.

Now, the all-party Defence Committee has concluded that, despite Conservative Ministerial promises about action and their intervention with an improvement plan, all the independent surveys and assessments confirm that service personnel are still dissatisfied with their housing.

But, what makes this all the more worse, is that the Ministry of Defence still won’t publish either the monthly performance data relating to repairs – for example, what proportion of repairs were completed satisfactorily in the target time – or information about the number and nature of complaints being received.

This is a disgrace. It’s bad enough that the performance is lousy, but to continue to try to cover up the scale of the problem is contemptible.

If Mrs May can’t be trusted to do right by our service families, why should we trust her on anything else?