While Supporting People services in England are being cut, Wales is fully committed to the programme
Over the past year Inside Housing has reported devastating cuts to the Supporting People programme in England. Now it is highlighting the vital importance of housing services to all policy areas ahead of next month’s regional elections with its House Proud - Devolved campaign.
Although the loss of specific grant makes it difficult to pinpoint where responsibility lies, the UK government’s belief that services for homeless and vulnerable people should compete with other areas of local public spend in such difficult times is having devastating consequences.
The need for support and homelessness services has never been greater due to our ageing population, a rise in the number of people with learning disabilities and the economic situation. Research has shown that the human cost of an economic downturn is more family breakdown, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol problems, mental ill-health and, ultimately, homelessness. When we add the highest level of youth unemployment we’ve ever seen and the fact that personal debt is predicted to rise to unprecedented levels, it seems obvious that support services which help people to find or keep their home should be central to government policy.
Since the introduction of the SP programme in 2003, the Welsh Assembly Government has taken a different approach to Westminster. This has been characterised by the protection of services to homeless and vulnerably housed people and the championing of third sector organisations which support vulnerable people, who do not enjoy the protection of public support or a statutory framework.
The most recent demonstration of this was from deputy minister for housing and regeneration Jocelyn Davies who instigated an independent review of how the programme could be improved. The review put forward a number of recommendations including strengthening flexibility, accountability and transparency. The latter involves establishing a national board chaired by the Ms Davies to oversee the programme and ensure it maximizes its contribution to meeting national policy objectives. So, while Westminster has washed its hands of any responsibility for the vulnerable people SP helps at a time when services are needed most, in Wales we have a policy direction that raises the housing and support needs of vulnerable people further up the national agenda.
Over the next assembly term we will have more people needing support to find and keep a home and I am grateful that in Wales we have a national commitment to the SP programme. I also hope the UK government reflects on the impact its decisions on SP are having and follows Wales’ lead.
Joy Kent is director of Cymorth Cymru