All posts by Rhiannon Bury
This morning, care minister Norman Lamb announced that the government was committed to integrating health and social care services as part of the first ever ‘system-wide shared commitment’.
If we just put aside the hideous management speak for a moment, this appears to be good news. Primarily, it seems, the agreement will put a stop to patients having to constantly repeat themselves to various organisations in a bid to get the variety of help that they need.
In fact, 12 national bodies have signed up to the ‘shared commitment’ (honestly, couldn’t they think of a better name for it?), pledging to make ‘joined-up and coordinated health and care the norm’ by 2018.
There will be new pioneer areas to test this out, which will be announced in September. Local areas that want to pilot the plans need to apply by the end of next month.
It’s a welcome step towards a change which should have happened years ago. In an age of digital everything, why is it so difficult to share information across services – something that would genuinely improve people’s lives?
The report accompanying the announcement may be stating the bleeding obvious, but it does at least note that ‘services can be fragmented, and those who need to rely on them often find that they are hard to access and that there are inadequate links between them’.
It also acknowledges that good housing is an important factor in helping people stay well, and recover when they do become ill. Housing providers could do a lot worse than keep an eye on the pilot areas and offer their expertise at opportune moments.
Quite frankly though, integration is old news. Housing providers have been saying it for ages, Mr Lamb. Now let’s just get on with it.
The publication of a scrutiny committee’s report into the draft Care and Support Bill has been widely hailed as a win for housing organisations in the continuing battle to be recognised as the third leg of the care ‘stool’.
The group of MPs on the committee were tasked with examining the broad-ranging reforms that the bill sets out, notably a cap on care costs and improved work between agencies.
‘The draft bill has been widely welcomed,’ the report says. ‘That does not mean that it cannot be improved.’ Well, quite.
Committee members broadly criticised a lack of understand from the government over the scale of the changes that the bill will bring about. If and when it goes ahead, the bill will fundamentally change the way care is funded and designed and the bill, the committee said, does not appreciate that.
But – and I can almost hear the cheering across the housing sector – it also recommends a number of points at which housing should be added to the list of agencies involved in care decisions. In particular, there are recommendations that the word ‘housing’ is added to several clauses, such as statements on well-being, assessment, assessment for carers, cooperation, information and advice, and discharge from hospital.
Most excitingly, or so I’m told, it suggests the government should consider amending the bill to include ‘appropriate housing representation’ in the membership of safeguarding adults boards.
Generally it seems that committee took on a lot of the advice that they were given by housing providers and representatives who gave evidence.
Domini Gunn, director of health and well-being at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the added housing elements will ‘strengthen the bill’ and help to ensure that the importance of a decent home is recognised.
She added: ‘We do have some concerns – we feel an opportunity has been missed to require housing, health and social care to jointly plan and commission services, and there should also be a requirement for housing to be fully engaged in the preparation and delivery of joint strategic needs assessments.’
But, it seems, people on the housing side of the tracks are largely pleased.
Of course, civil servants and minister in the Department of Health could now choose to entirely ignore the committee’s recommendations and leave housing languishing on the sidelines. But with so many people cheering them on, it would be a mistake to let such an opportunity slide.
It has happened – the government has finally committed to capping the cost of care for any individual after months, nay years, of faffing.
And it’s come more quickly than many anticipated. In July, there were rumblings that the government had kicked the whole thing into the long grass. The social care white paper, which was widely expected to at least hint of more detail on the plans, contained little in the way of concrete information.
Then, Jeremy Hunt stands up in the House of Commons yesterday and, in a voice so steady and soft you could have been forgiven for thinking he was delivering really bad news, announced that a £75,000 cap would be put in place from 2017.
Brilliant, many cried. The cap signals the end of uncertainty for people facing long spells in residential care and soaring bills. It will allow people to plan for their old age safe in the knowledge that their budget for care is finite.
But the cap crucially excludes so called ‘hotel costs’ – that is food and accommodation costs above care itself – meaning it is not exhaustive. Even if you reach the £75,000 cap, you would still be liable for residential costs after that.
More importantly, the cap is also more than double that suggested by Andrew Dilnot, the leading economist who was commissioned by the government to investigate how on earth this country was going to help an ever increasing older population.
Accordingly, Mr Dilnot suggested £35,000 as a reasonable cap, and probably with good reason. He probably did quite a few sums. The downside was that it would cost the government a whopping £1.7 billion to fund, which in an economic downturn wasn’t ideal.
So Jeremy Hunt bumped the cap to £75,000. In his defence, he did at least stick to the income threshold that Mr Dilnot suggested – boosting the point at which you qualify for state help from assets worth less than £23,000, to assets worth less than £123,000.
Until housing and health can more effectively work together there’s only a limited amount that can be done, some commentators have argued. And it’s true. Capping the cost of care only goes so far if that care isn’t being delivered well, or isn’t appropriate for the needs of the individual.
There’s much to be sceptical about, but at least the government is doing something.
The news last week that Derby Council is proposing the biggest ever cut to a Supporting People budget is not exactly good. It’s a dubious honour to bestow on a local authority – one of hundreds which is having to make cuts as the recession drags on and public spending plummets.
But has Derby gone too far? If the decision gets through the relevant consultation stages, it will reduce this financial year’s planned Supporting People budget of £9.3 million to £6.6 million, and then £3.8 million in 2013/14 and £1.8 million in 2014/15. This equates to an 81 per cent cut over three years.
It’s a terrifying amount. The council is all but wiping out vital support for services for vulnerable people, and citing increasingly squeezed coffers as its rationale.
It will hit mental health services, people with learning disabilities, homeless people and families, young people, teenage parents, people with drug or alcohol problems… the list goes on. It is by no means the only council looking at slashing its budgets, but by the unfortunate fact of making the biggest cut, it will attract a certain amount of criticism.
Even the union Unite said it recognised that the Labour-controlled council had been put into an ‘impossible position’ by communities secretary Eric Pickles and the coalition government’s ‘staggering cuts’ to local government funding. But it was clear that more needed to be done to protect people.
Sally Kosky, national officer for Unite, said: ‘Derby Council’s decision means that at least one of the city’s few remaining providers plans to cut its service to the bone, with fewer support workers on greatly reduced salaries, some below the living wage.’
It’s not only going to hit vulnerable people, it’s going to hit providers too, with redundancies being an inevitable consequence.
The decision has been on the cards since last year. In August, the chief executive of YMCA Derbyshire Gillian Sewell wrote an open letter to council leader Paul Bayliss, saying: ‘The proposed scale of the cut is surely not proportionate and represents a decimation of support for vulnerable people in housing crisis, including young people.
‘The cut goes much further than other comparable local authority areas and will cause real harm to the local community as a whole.’
Is this a sign of things to come?
Today, the Welsh Government published a new social services bill, aiming to ‘transform the delivery of social services’ for many vulnerable people.
It promises to strengthen powers for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and give people more control over the services they use by increasing the range of things which can be paid for directly by the individual. It also plans the introduction of a national eligibility criteria to get rid of the so-called postcode lottery that exists with some services.
Moreover, it’s won praise from commentators (mostly on Twitter – I haven’t done any comprehensive research) for its plans to give carers rights which would be equal to those they care for.
It’s been broadly welcomed by a sector that is, without doubt, clamouring for reform. But Mel Nott, the Welsh Local Government Association’s spokesperson for health and social care, points out that without extra money, or ‘available resources’ as she diplomatically puts it, the bill can only do so much.
‘The social care system is already under extreme pressure, and it will face fundamental challenges over the coming years. While the new bill’s focus on preventative approaches will go some way to delivering a sustainable framework for social care in the future, the overall pressure on the system is expected to increase even further in the coming years due to an ageing population and the year-on-year increase in demand for public services that this will lead to,’ she explains.
It’s a fair point. But what really has me flummoxed is the complete lack of acknowledgement of the housing sector in all this. Having had a quick skim through the bill document itself and a search using that friend of journalists the world over, CTRL F, I can barely find any mention of housing at all. Indeed, the only mention seems to be in relation to things a local authority doesn’t have to do if it’s meant to be done by the housing department.
There is some allusion to local authorities working with other ‘partners’, which I suppose might mean housing associations, but nothing explicit. The bill all but ignores the work housing organisations do to help vulnerable people live independently and stay healthy.
If I had a pound for every time someone told me about the importance of housing, health and social care working together, well, I wouldn’t be sat at my desk in misty old London this afternoon. I’m not sure why this isn’t filtering through to those writing the legislation.
So another week has passed with little more news on the government’s plans for funding care for older and vulnerable people. There were hints that David Cameron and/or Nick Clegg would commit to a care cap in the mid-term review, released yesterday, but it came and went with little more than a nod towards the issue.
You have to cast your minds back to July 2011 to find the origins of the plan to cap the cost of care to an individual. Economist Andrew Dilnot – whose name has since become synonymous with the plans – unveiled his idea to make care costs more predictable for people as they entered old age.
His plan was to cap care at £35,000, even though this would incur a cost of around £2 billion pounds for the government. In July 2012 – yes, a full year later – health secretary Andrew Lansley hinted that the government would shelve the plans because it couldn’t cough up the necessary cash to fund them. But a month later the deal seemed back on, with reports that details of the scheme would be announced soon.
The Sunday Times trailed reports this weekend that the chancellor and the Department of Health had come to an agreement to fix the cap at £75,000 – significantly higher than the £35,000 cap that Mr Dilnot had proposed. The mid-term review this week could have been the ideal vehicle for the announcement, but so far it hasn’t materialised.
It did contain confirmation of the government’s support for the scheme, but there is so far no word on how high the cap would be.
It’s taken the government the best part of 18 months to get even this far, but really we’re no closer to a solution. Mr Dilnot was commissioned by the government to write his report in the first place, but the lack of response since then suggests his conclusions perhaps weren’t the ones ministers wanted.
You can almost imagine George Osborne practising his speech for tomorrow, as he paces back and forth in his office somewhere in deepest darkest Whitehall.
‘Growth, job, business, deficit,’ he’s probably chanting – but there’s one aspect of reform that hasn’t had much airtime in the inevitable trailing of the content of the speech, and that’s social care.
After the budget, the autumn statement is probably one of the most important events in Mr Osborne’s calendar. It’s his chance to set out his plans for government spending and outline how he intends to drag the country kicking and screaming out of recession.
In July, the government published the white paper on care, which set out a number of changes to the care system. In it, ministers committed to the proposals from economist Andrew Dilnot, who had previously said the cost of care should be capped.
The government agreed to this in principle in the white paper, but stopped short of pushing to actually implement it. If nothing is done, charity Age UK estimate that the £500 million gap in funding needed for the current system will simply increase, the NHS will be put under more pressure, and more tax will be lost from people forced not to work to care for a loved one.
It seems unlikely that Mr Osborne will solve the care crisis in one fell swoop tomorrow, but he could do much worse than address some of the funding issues surrounding the proposals for reform. However, it’s more likely we’ll hear of further welfare cuts and tightening of belts all round.
Unfortunately for Mr Osborne, it’s going to take more than a royal pregnancy to distract people from what is likely to be a difficult speech to hear.
On Friday, the Care Quality Commission published its report on the state of care in England. It’s a mammoth piece of work – an amalgamation of 13,000 inspections of care homes, nursing services and health facilities.
And what did it find? Well, things are not universally rosy.
One in 10 NHS hospitals failed to treat people with the respect they deserve and failed to involve them in decisions about their care, and 15 per cent of social care services were not providing care that respected people. Almost a quarter of services did not have adequate staffing levels.
And all this in the face of growing demand for nursing homes services: in 2011/12, there was a 1.4 per cent increase in the number of nursing home services that registered with the CQC.
There were some services where ‘unacceptable care has become the norm’, the report said.
In the news release that accompanies the report, David Behan, chief executive of the CQC, said different services ‘need to work well together in an integrated way that meets the best interests of the people who use these services’. It’s what housing providers have always said – and continue to say.
Last week’s news that the new NHS commissioning board has approached a group of housing organisations to draw up a ‘compact’ for local health groups to work with landlords is heartening. But there is a real opportunity for landlords to get involved in people’s care, and for the ‘compact’ to work the other way. More pulling together could avoid long hospital stays and repeat admissions if people can return to their own, suitable, homes more quickly, and the overstretched NHS might have a chance to cope.
Likewise, if housing organisations were consulted when people leave hospital, perhaps the standard of care they received could improve if doctors understand the home conditions of the individual.
The CQC report only serves to show the scale of the problem – and perhaps housing is part of the solution.
Care leavers have hit the news today, after children’s minister Edward Timpson accused councils of failing to do enough to end the ‘national scandal’ of young people leaving the care system without adequate support.
Mr Timpson told the annual Care Leavers’ Conference that the fate of people leaving care is in stark contrast to that of other young people who rely on support for their parents as they struggle to get on the housing ladder.
Basically, these children are facing much bigger problems than just not being able to find a 30 per cent deposit.
David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, hit back at the idea that councils aren’t doing enough: ‘Like any family, councils try to provide a package of support that reflects the circumstances young people face as they move towards adulthood, which may include money, help in kind, support with housing and finding a job,’ he said.
Figures from the Department for Education suggest more than a third of children in care leave by the age 16 and, of those, 45 per cent will not be in education, employment or training three years later.
Mr Timpson called the experience of leaving care a ‘cliff edge’, where help suddenly ceases. No wonder the rate of former care leavers who are unemployed is far higher than the rest of the population.
In his speech, he urged councils to award teenagers a minimum £2,000 grant to cover the cost of setting up a new life outside care and warned that he would consider setting a national rate if they ‘did not make more progress’.
Perhaps this is happening already, but it strikes me that there’s a great opportunity for councils to build relationships with housing associations to help care leavers find homes. Housing associations would benefit from a cut of up to £2,000 to help with costs, and the councils would know children were going on to a stable start.
This blog has never been afraid of trotting out research which suggests there’s a link between decent housing, and good health and employment prospects, and while I can’t find anything that exactly illustrates the point, it would seem obvious that having a home helps you get, and keep, a job.
There has to be more that can be done for children who have most likely already faced some real difficulties. Finding them a home is just the start.
The first ever Northern Ireland housing strategy has received a cautiously warm reception from housing professionals. Generally, people seem to be pleased that the executive is taking positive steps towards tackling some serious housing issues.
The one thing that has been repeatedly praised is the inclusion of an entire chapter dedicated to ‘meeting housing needs and supporting the most vulnerable’. This, people have told me, is a refreshing move from ministers to push oft-marginalised groups to the fore.
According to the strategy, the department will embark on a more ‘joined-up’ approach to helping older people by working with health and social services departments to help people stay in their own home. It is also going to commission research to find out whether older people want to stay in their own homes or not – an eminently sensible idea.
The last page of the chapter is dedicated to welfare reform - which perhaps is the issue most likely to cause problems in the coming months.
The department has promised to publish research on the impact of welfare reform on tenants, and put in place services to advise people on the changes, but will it be enough? A chink of light occurs in the shape of discretionary housing payments – which are supposedly to be extended to help those people in the most acute need – but ultimately Northern Ireland is heading the same way as the rest of the UK when it comes to reforms like universal credit and the bedroom tax.
All in all, I think it’s a mixed bag. While it’s clear the department is keen to help vulnerable people, it are merely paying lip service to the idea while it watches its own welfare reform bill limit many benefits. It’s not going to be an easy year for many people – and it would seem that the minister, Nelson McCausland, understands this. But without more detail, and some decent commitment to funding, the strategy means little more than the paper it’s written on.
It’s the age-old question – and no one seems to have any concrete answers.
Martin Knapp, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics and director of the School for Social Care Research, explained that his research showed that people are generally very happy with the care they receive in housing schemes, but that there isn’t a lot of material out there to show how to do these schemes well. Surely that’s where housing providers should step in, to demonstrate how housing schemes with a care element work well.
Richard Humphries, senior fellow at the Kings Fund, said the key to integrating services was understanding how government policies fit together – and that it wasn’t limited to the obvious ones. As well as explaining some of the NHS reforms and care papers to come out of Westminster, he also pointed out that policies such as welfare reform could impact enormously on how care services are delivered. Not least because it’s still unclear how supported housing will be funded.
He encouraged providers to muscle their way onto health and wellbeing boards, to make sure that they are building relationships with local health providers from the off. ‘Housing will need to be banging on the door of health and wellbeing boards to make sure they are engaging with you,’ he said.
There was also much discussion on how homes – not housing – impact on people’s wellbeing. Andrea Sutcliff, chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, explained how it is one of the major factors in people’s lives which help them to live independently. It’s about providers knowing what each other is talking about, she explained, and knowing what words mean in a health context versus a housing context.
So it’s the same old arguments – housing, health and social care need to integrate more, providers need to talk more, ministers need to produce joined-up (how I hate that phrase) policies. But why isn’t it working?
‘Housing is key to the policy ambitions of health and social care,’ Mr Humphries explained. And if it’s so key, providers should do something about it and shout a bit louder, if that’s what it takes.
Social care assessments hit the news last week, when a report from the Audit Commission found that councils could provide care packages for almost 20,000 older people if they scaled back their outlay on assessment procedures.
The report suggested that local authorities could release more than £300 million to frontline social care by spending less on assessments and reviews, which determine what type of support people can receive.
As the Local Government Association pointed out last week, it would be wrong to suggest that efficiency savings alone are going to sort out this country’s aging population, but there was definitely a varied picture over the cost of assessments which should be standardised.
Assessments aren’t getting much good press all round this week: Paralympic sponsor Atos is at risk of being bigger news than the Games themselves as furious campaigners launched a five day protest against its assessment system.
The healthcare company has been criticised for its handling of a £100 million-a-year contract with the coalition to assess whether people claiming for sickness and disability benefits are fit for work.
According to some, the assessments result in people who cannot work being deemed fit during a 15 minutes assessment.
There has to be a middle ground here: councils are already spending around 40 per cent of their budgets on social care, with an extra £2 billion needing to be found each year after 2015 just to keep up with demographic changes, so throwing money at long consultations with individuals over what support they need doesn’t seem appropriate.
But, these reviews determine whether people receive state-funded help – which for some is quite literally a life or death decision. Isn’t there a better way?
There’s nothing the press like better than a ministerial u-turn: that brilliant, 180 degree swoop back towards a policy that looked like it was going the way of the pasty tax.
Last week it was widely reported that the Department of Health had u-turned on plans to quietly drop a proposed cap on care, and would, in fact, be giving it the go ahead.
This care cap – part of the now ubiquitous Dilnot report – would mean no individual would pay more than £35,000 for the cost of their care. This would end the practise of older people being forced to sell off their homes in order to fund years of expensive residential care.
The government had always approached the issue with caution, not least because the plans carry a hefty £2 billion price tag. Even as recently as last month, Andrew Lansley hinted in the care and support white paper that he would not commit to funding the cap proposals until 2013, meaning the cap wouldn’t take effect until 2015.
So when last week’s reports suggested the government had had a change of heart, there were whoops and cheers all round.
But a statement from the Department of Health is less than conclusive. Mr Lansley said in July that the government supported the principles outlined by Andrew Dilnot – last week he said little more.
‘As we made clear when we published our progress report on care and support funding reform, the government supports the principles of a capped cost model as recommended by the Dilnot Commission. It would, as Andrew Dilnot himself said, enable people to plan and prepare, so that they are not so vulnerable to the arbitrary impact of catastrophic care costs,’ he said on Thursday.
So that’s all well and good.
He added: ‘We are continuing to explore a range of options for funding such a system, and as we have said any proposal which includes extra public spending must be considered alongside other priorities at the spending review. Today’s press speculation is entirely consistent with the approach we have already set out.’
So are we really any further on at all?
The decision not to carry out a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of three asylum seekers in Glasgow brings to an end a sorry tale of desperation.
Russian refugees Serguei, Tatiana and Stepan Serykh died when they fell from the 15th floor of one of the Red Road tower blocks in the Springburn area of north east Glasgow on 7 March 2010.
What complicated the case was that their application to remain in the UK had been refused and they had been told they had to leave their flat, leading to fingers being pointed at agencies which might have been able to protect them.
The family had not, however, been issued with a removal order at the time of their deaths, and were reportedly also suffering from mental health issues.
We will never know whether these people were so desperate that they leaped to their deaths rather than be sent home, or whether there were other factors at play. It would be wrong to speculate either way.
Inevitably, not everyone who arrives in this country seeking asylum will be granted it. The homelessness charities, housing associations and council workers who support the families have a job on their hands to provide suitable accommodation, sometimes for months on end, for people who are in limbo.
Asylum seekers seem to represent the unseen side of housing-related support. The individuals are often traumatised, unable to speak English and not eligible for much state help. They might have complex needs, and cannot work, meaning charities have to pick up the slack.
There are organisations that do a lot to support asylum seekers and champion their rights. But people like the Serykh family show that there’s still a huge amount of work to be done, and it’s not something anyone can take lightly.
If you thought the new Universal Credit regulations were done, dusted and ready for implementation, you’d be wrong.
Behind the scenes, a debate is still raging about who should be exempt from caps to benefits – people whose accommodation is necessarily more expensive than ‘normal’ housing because they need extra support or adaptations.
These people are expected to qualify for ‘exempt accommodation’ – where the cost of housing can be shown to be above the £26,000 benefit cap for disability reasons.
But as part of this, the government needs to work out a definition of ‘vulnerable’ so it can define who qualifies for an exemption and who doesn’t. The debate has hotted up this week with housing groups and charities warning that the changes could affect certain groups and services which wouldn’t necessarily qualify for extra money.
Women’s Aid believes limiting the types of charges which are eligible to be covered by housing benefit to just three leaves several which will not be covered, including the maintenance of communal gardens, fire safety equipment, communal heating, lighting, lifts, door entry systems, children’s play areas, white goods, furniture and rubbish collection.
This could threaten refuge accommodation, it said, and has asked for women in refuges to be considered exempt from the cap.
Across the border, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has warned that vulnerable people could find it hard to access benefits.
Maureen Watson, policy director at the SFHA, said: ‘As yet, there is no definition of ‘vulnerable’ in the regulations. A comprehensive definition is needed to ensure that people with literacy, numeracy and confidence challenges are not disadvantaged.’
The core definition of ‘vulnerable adult’ from a 1997 consultation Who decides? issued by the Lord Chancellor’s department, said it is a person ‘who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of disability, age or illness; and is or may be unable to take care of unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation’.
But is this enough? I’d be interested to hear what you think the definition of ‘vulnerable’ should be below.
The eagerly-awaited social care white paper was published by the Department of Health yesterday to what turned out to be a slightly limp fanfare. Widely trailed, and woolly in terms of detail, it wasn’t the panacea many had hoped for.
The major points – a deferred payment system for older people and a commitment to introducing a cap on care costs at some point – were broadly welcomed by the sector, but many expressed frustration that there wasn’t more detail, especially on when the cap might come in.
Here’s a round-up of what people have been telling us:
Sue Adams, chief executive of Care and Repair England: ‘We warmly welcome the acknowledgement that decent, suitable housing underpins independent living and can determine the need for social care. This white paper goes further than anything before in embedding that integrated vision.
‘As well as a vision, we need radical new delivery methods. Very modest capital investment would reach thousands of older people, enabling self-help and better use of limited resources.’
Chris Munday, director for care and support at Midland Heart: ‘It is a step forward, but disappointing too that the detail on how people will actually pay for their future care is still not clear.
‘We now need certainty. Without it, our collective and fundamental longer term challenge for our ever growing aging population to live in their home with confidence and independence will never fully be addressed.’
Jane Ashcroft, chief executive of Anchor: ‘Every day that passes, without government detailing a plan of action, sees people losing a lifetime of savings. Despite election promises to prioritise social care, less than a quarter of older people are confident that good-quality care will be made available to them when they need it.’
Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, said: ‘The continued uncertainty will impact on investment prospects, delay innovation and development, and also mean that vulnerable people will continue to be served by a system widely perceived as complex, inequitable and unfair.’
Rebecca Mollart, director of policy at supported housing lobby group Erosh: ‘What we’re really concerned about is the delay in costing these proposals – without this we can’t really assess the implications of the proposals. With local cuts to Supporting People funding that have hit people really hard it’s difficult to see how local authorities will have the funding to support a loan scheme [to help people pay for care].’
Rachael Byrne, executive director for care and support at Home Group: ‘I’m disappointed that the government hasn’t addressed the cap issue and I don’t think local authorities are set up to loan money or have the processes in place to do it. We are pleased about the money for older people’s housing, and the £300 million for integrated working between the NHS and adult social care teams.’
Who would have thought that this blog would dip its care-shaped toe into the murky world of inter-bank lending rates? But here we are, just hours after top bod Bob Diamond stepped down from his post at Barclays, presumably to enjoy his enormous payout and his Nantucket mansion in peace.
Even before Mr Diamond jumped ship at around 8 o’clock this morning, Grant Shapps, surely king of the hefty leap onto the nearest bandwagon, made the link between the former chief exec and the housing crisis.
In a Commons debate yesterday afternoon, Mr Shapps said attempts to manipulate interest rates – for which Barclays was fined £290 million last week – could have caused people to lose their homes and increase homelessness.
‘All the research into homelessness proves that there are a lot of different causes, and Libor [the inter-bank lending rate] may be a contributory factor if it transpires that mortgage rates have been adjusted as a result,’ he said.
I’ll leave the clever interpretation of the figures to our business pages, but the implication is that if Barclays’ fiddling has been altering the mortgage market, people might have not been able to meet payments and could have had their homes repossessed.
This outburst, topical as it was, smacks of finger pointing of the worst kind. On Friday, new figures from homelessness charity Broadway revealed the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London has increased 43 per cent in the last year, and not all of them have suffered because of a bit of creative accounting by Mr Diamond and his minions.
Mr Shapps probably has a point – homelessness has many causes and no doubt there will be article after article written about Barclays problems in the coming months, not to mention a possible inquiry and calls for an overhaul of the banking system. But, the things that are really hitting people hard, the things that really will increase homelessness are things like welfare reform, a lack of affordable housing, and the cutting of support services.
And for all this, Mr Shapps doesn’t need to look anywhere other than his own department.
If you didn’t know already, this week is Refugee Week. This year, there is a special focus on people who have made a difference to the Olympics and to UK sport.
Housing providers are often central to a refugee’s experience of this country. After all, this is a group of people who are more likely to need housing support than almost anyone else.
A snapshot survey of asylum seekers and refugees living in Glasgow, carried out by Glasgow University, found that more than 100 were living in destitution, for an average time span of one and a half years, though one survey participant had been destitute for as long as six and a half years.
On a more positive note, London-based association Metropolitan are tackling the problem of a language barrier with a home learning project. The project provides tuition for refugees who are unable to leave their homes, often due to mental health issues arising from the trauma experienced by having to leave their country of origin.
Sixty-four refugees have received tuition and seventeen refugees, including both learners and learning mentors, have taken up voluntary work as a result.
Rosie Ward, project coordinator, says: ‘The extent of isolation experienced by refugees is unbelievable. Some of them have had little or no contact with their local community for several years and many are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and a sense of displacement. The home learning project teaches them the language skills they need to function within the community, improves their confidence and knowledge of the local area and gives them hope.’
It all sounds like good news, but Ms Ward adds that the funding for the service will come to an end in September, leaving its future unclear. Currently, it’s the only project of its type in London.
The Refugee Week focus this year seems just right – there is so much focus on Britishness in the country at the moment that it is probably worth stepping back and looking at people who have come to Britain and genuinely made a difference.
But more than that, at a time of squeezed budgets, shouldn’t we be doing as much as we can to make people who come here in search of protection, welcome?
If there’s one thing that is often written about in the care sector, it is people’s ability to live independently in their own home. Staying in your home, despite any care needs, must be a great comfort to a great many people.
But a report from Mencap today points out that people need to get out as well, and if you have a learning disability, it’s becoming increasingly hard.
The charity said that nearly a third of local authorities have closed day services in the last three years, meaning one in four adults with a learning disability now spends less than one hour a day outside of their home.
Freedom of information requests to 151 local authorities revealed that more than half of people with a learning disability who are known to social services do not receive any day service provision whatsoever, compared to 48 per cent in 2009/10.
In addition, 60 per cent of local authorities have increased charges for going to day services and for vital services like transport to a service, on average by 70 per cent.
They are worrying figures – particularly because when Mencap asked 280 people with disabilities whether they had been consulted about changes made to day services, 88 per cent said no.
The cuts also hit families who are having to look after their loved ones because of a lack of any other service, possibly leaving them unable to work. It’s not a financially stable time for anyone, but this is another blow for an already hard-hit group.
Liz Kendall, the shadow care minister, said the report is yet more evidence that the care system is ‘in crisis’. Given that social care barely featured in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, I’m inclined to agree.
Momentum is building among care providers and campaigners as the Queen’s speech approaches, not least because the promised social care reforms might not be included.
Tomorrow, Her Majesty will announce what the government will be doing between now and the summer recess. It’s likely there will be a Crime, Communications and Courts Bill and a Banking Reform Bill, but thanks to a bill on the reform of the House of Lords, the Social Care Bill looks to have fallen by the wayside.
The Bill could have dealt with a number of things – but notably it might have included details of financing care in the future. We’re still waiting for a response from the government to Andrew Dilnot’s recommendations of a care cap which were published last July. The Treasury, which is thought to have balked at the £1.7 billion cost of the Dilnot Commission’s proposals, could now put off a decision on who pays for care until 2015.
Age UK is calling for people to tweet about the need for new care laws with the hashtag #CareCantWait to @Number10gov – the Prime Minister’s twitter feed. Reading the feed it’s clear there is a lot of feeling from people who think the current system isn’t fair, or affordable.
On top of that, a number of groups, including the Local Government Association, and housing associations Anchor, Home Group and Housing 21, have written to David Cameron to tell him the current system is ‘under- funded and in urgent need of reform’.
A white paper will now be published in June, although no formal response to Dilnot’s proposals will come with it. A progress report on cross-party talks over long-term care funding will be published alongside the paper instead.
It’s undoubtedly a complicated business, but with the elderly population of the UK steadily rising and people living longer, there needs to be a solution to the impending crisis. And fast.