All posts from: April 2012
When I started working at Inside Housing in July 2010, wardens, or the lack thereof, were big news in the care sector.
All over the country, supported housing schemes were losing their wardens as the service became unviably expensive. People who had previously enjoyed 24 hour care from someone who lived in their scheme had their service reduced to someone on the end of a phone.
This week, the issue reared its head again in Barnet, north London, after residents launched a court case against their council over plans to introduce a floating warden to sheltered accommodation.
The two tenants claim the local authority is in breach of its tenancy agreements by offering to provide floating support rather than a live-in carer.
And these campaigners have been here before: in December 2009 they went to court on the same issue, when the judge ruled in favour of the campaigners. The council subsequently revised the plans, but the residents are still not happy.
Much has been written about the pros and cons of removing warden services. The Communities and Local Government department carried out a study into the effectiveness of floating support versus wardens in April 2008, which found that there are ‘limitations’ to floating support.
‘There are some individuals for whom floating support services can do very little either because their problems are so overwhelming or because they disengage from the service – in these circumstances an accommodation based service may be more effective,’ it said.
In addition, the review concluded that there are a number of limitations to the research studies that have been carried out on floating support services and that a more effective evidence base needs to be developed to assess the impact and effectiveness of these services.
Are floating support services a better use of resources, helping people be more independent, or a gross breach of tenancy agreements which promise to look after people?
If cases like this are still arising, clearly no one has an answer.
On 3 May, communities up and down the UK will be voting for their new local leaders.
Local elections will be held in 131 English local authorities, all 32 local authorities in Scotland and 21 of the 22 Welsh councils. Added to that, there will be three mayoral elections, and 11 cities will be voting on whether they want a directly elected mayor or not.
But among all the campaigning, leafleting and posturing, will politicians forget about vulnerable people?
The Housing and Ageing Alliance, a group of organisations championing the rights of older people, thinks they will. It has called on politicians across parties to focus on older people when they are campaigning, and to make sure that they are willing to make sure older people have decent homes and advice.
It’s an admirable goal, and any politician worth his or her salt should know that proving you can appeal to all generations may well get you a few more crosses at the ballot box.
But more than that, it is increasingly councils which hold the keys to services for older people. Localism is in full swing, and council budgets are theirs to do what they like with. You only have to look at the discrepancies in Supporting People funding, which has no ring fence, to see that councils are very much in charge of their destinies.
As he launched the party’s campaign in the north last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband said local councils can make a real difference to people’s lives.
‘In the end, these local elections you know aren’t about individual politicians, they’re actually about the people of Britain and they are about who the people of Britain want leading them in their local councils,’ he told ITV.
‘That’s a really important decision because I think local councils can big decisions to protect children’s centres to protect local libraries to protect older people.’
Some politicians are already stepping up: Sean Morton, a Labour candidate for the Fochabers Lhanbryde ward in Moray, Scotland, has pledged to fight to give people who receive care more choice, flexibility and control over their own lives.
There are surely others with a similar ethos. But as 3 May creeps closer and the debate grows louder, politicians need to make sure they’re keeping the door open for older people as well.
‘I don’t think housing officers are hard-faced people at all. I think it’s lack of training or knowledge.’ So says Vera Baird QC, former attorney general, on why it is that councils are making it difficult for women made homeless by domestic violence.
We were talking on Tuesday, just after the deadline had slipped past for this story, where our investigations found widespread reports that homeless persons units at local authorities are failing in their legal duties to people made homeless by domestic violence. One pan-London service, run by Eaves, reported to us that they see one case a week where they have to involve solicitors before the HPU will even carry out the assessment to see if the woman is homeless.
As a reminder, councils have a duty to provide temporary housing when a person presents themselves as homeless because of domestic violence – and then to investigate. The victim doesn’t have to ‘prove’ that they are a victim in order to get help.
It is extremely hard to leave an abusive relationship – as some readers will have personally experienced. For women – and the vast majority of victims are women - to approach a public service for help in leaving, Ms Baird says, is ‘miraculous’. They should be believed, not doubted. They shouldn’t need a solicitor or specialist advocate to be in with a chance of getting the basic help they are entitled to.
Among the obstacles that victims leaving a relationship might face are: losing their jobs; losing their homes; losing contact with friends and family, who all too often side with the abuser; and even losing their lives – and victims are most at risk of being killed when leaving the relationship. Two women a week are murdered by their current or former partners.
Many refuges did not want to be quoted about their experiences with HPUs – worried about risking their funding from local authorities, they are not always the loudest of critics. ‘I don’t want to be too cowardly,’ one chief executive apologised – before asking me not to identify the London council which had refused re-housing help to at least two women in her refuge at that moment.
Some cases are public. For example, last year the Local Government Ombudsman instructed Hounslow Council to change its procedures, following a particularly bad case, which involved a series of failures. As a result, the council is rolling out training for its housing staff and has put new processes in place.
Surely there is a case that councils provide such training to all front line housing staff. For victims trying to flee an abusive partner, family member or carer, the knowledge base of the person they happen to encounter shouldn’t be the difference between getting help, returning to more violence, or homelessness.
Another week, another scathing attack on the Care Quality Commission. Last week, the latest big wigs to launch an assault of the infamous regulator found it has been ‘poorly governed and led’.
The CQC, which inspects care homes and domiciliary care services across the country, was criticised by the House of Commons public accounts committee. A report from the committee said the CQC had focused too heavily on registration rather than inspections.
Worse, the Department for Health, which oversees the CQC, had begun to take action only after it was clear it had been ‘struggling for some time’, the report said.
Anyone with older relatives will know the pain and difficulty of finding the right care home for them. And with care costs in danger of going through the roof, effective regulation of services is surely more important than ever.
In fact, a study carried out by Age UK and published in The Daily Telegraph today predicts that the cost to families of funding care for older people will more than double in the next 13 years, from £8.4 billion at present to £17.5 billion by 2025.
Gradual changes to care funding have been labelled a ‘stealth’ cut by campaigners who think the cost of care is becoming unaffordable. Age UK calculated that the number of people paying for all of their care in England will rise from around 490,000 this year to 530,000 by 2015. That’s just more families under pressure as the threshold for qualifying for care creeps up.
Social landlords are in the perfect position to offer well-run, quality care services for people who really need them. Perhaps now is the time to look at new models to find better ways to help people who have to pay for their care as well – and save an entire generation from poorly-regulated, poor quality homes in the future.