REPORT: Promoting Independence: the future of housing related support

Since 2003, the Supporting People programme has funded a wide range of housing related support services that help vulnerable people to manage their accommodation and live independently. This includes offering life-skills training, mediating in neighbourhood disputes, providing support to older people and helping people to manage their family budgets.

But recent changes to the way the programme is funded have had a major impact on the way these services are provided. The ringfence on the local government budget was removed in 2009 and the funding was rolled into the general grant for councils this year. Essentially, ‘Supporting People’ no longer exists as a centralised programme and housing related support is now the responsibility of local government.

The difficult funding choices being made by local councils at this time have exposed the vulnerability of the programme in many areas of the country. In some authorities there have been cuts of over 40 per cent, with serious consequences for frontline services. Promoting Independence, a report launched this week by the LGiU in partnership with Circle Housing, looks at the value of housing related support, and its future as a council service.

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The report finds that there is a strong financial case for housing related support. In 2008 Capgemini research indicated that every pound spent on the programme across England saved £2.11 for the public purse. We spoke to several authorities that had also calculated their savings locally and they had saved an average of £13.5m a year. Dorset County Council alone had calculated their savings as 20.1m using the Capgemini toolkit.

In our survey of 139 local authorities, over three-quarters had seen their budgets cut. More than four in ten were making their savings by reducing the level of services they could offer. However, around 90 per cent also recognised that cutting these services would ‘put vulnerable people at risk’ and ‘create costs elsewhere in the system’.

But the report also illustrated some innovative work on the part of local authorities. Many councils were minimising frontline cuts by creating efficiencies within the service, identifying remote solutions such as telecare as an important aspect of housing related support in future. The London Borough of Bexley had increased their capacity by over 30 per cent by offering individual budgets to their clients, while Derbyshire Council was in the process of developing a payment by results model for their provider organisations.

Promoting Independence makes a number of recommendations for local authorities. Councils are encouraged to:

  • recognise the value of preventative services in their commissioning strategies;
  • share information about the value of these services with elected members more effectively;
  • consider where preventative support is represented in Cabinet;
  • continue to collect outcomes data; and
  • ensure that the agenda is reflected in the new health and wellbeing boards, and specifically to make sure housing related support needs are included in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.

Preventative services can save money in the long-run and the potential savings generated through the prevention of crime, anti-social behaviour, insolvency and hospitalisation need to be weighed against the benefit of addressing immediate budgetary concerns.

But councils cannot do this alone. Government departments across Whitehall must take an active role in freeing up local spending and helping councils to pool budgets in their local areas through community budgets. Preventative services don’t just help local authorities: they benefit all the players in the local state, including the NHS, to the Police and Job Centre Plus. The need to maintain independence for vulnerable individuals cuts across all these organisations and budgets must be shared if the need is to be met in the long-term. Opening up these opportunities will be a real test of the Government’s commitment to localism.

For further information about the report, please contact its author lauren.lucas@lgiu.org.uk