Peter Aldous calls for sustainable long-term funding for supported housing

25th October 2017

Peter Aldous highlights the importance of supported housing for vulnerable people and the need to put the funding of supported housing on a sustainable long-term footing. He urges the Government to take on board the recommendations of the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee joint report.

I welcome this debate, as it follows on well from the half-hour Westminster Hall debate I secured on 10 October. That was very well attended and, although I was able to take some interventions, I am very aware that a lot of colleagues were not able to have their say. Today’s debate provides a further opportunity for Members from across the House to re-emphasise the vital importance of putting the funding of supported housing on a sustainable long-term footing. The task in front of us is not straightforward, but the more we debate the matter and talk about it in a constructive way, the better is the prospect of putting in place a sustainable system that can bring significant benefits to people who face very real challenges as they go about their everyday lives. We need a sustainable long-term solution; not a sticking plaster.

The case for supported housing is compelling. There is a rising demand for care and support, because of an ageing population and increased mental ill health and learning disabilities. A secure and comfortable home should be the cornerstone of life for everyone, regardless of their background and personal circumstances. If that cornerstone is in place, older people can retain their dignity and their independence, those fleeing domestic violence can find refuge and stabilise their lives and the homeless can more easily make the transition from living on the street to a settled home.

Supported housing provides outstanding value for money. For the elderly, it is less expensive than an alternative residential care setting. It has huge strategic advantages for councils providing adult social care services within very tight budgets, and its costs compare very favourably with those in the NHS. It is vital that the two Departments leading this debate, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, liaise and work closely with the Department for Health. There is a need to think outside departmental silos and to engage with NHS England.

For a relatively small cost to the public, supported housing reduces the strain on the NHS and care services, reduces unnecessary hospital stays and prevents moves to more costly residential care. It is important to highlight that if we get this right and put in place a sustainable and workable long-term funding system, it will be much easier to leverage in additional social investment capital into the sector. Cheyne Capital advises that if a sustainable framework had been in place over the past two years, it would have invested £120 million in supported housing.

Taking into account the strategic importance of supported housing, the Government were right to carry out the first evidence review of the sector in 20 years, publishing their findings on 21 October last year. On the same day, they launched their consultation on their preliminary proposals, setting up four task and finish groups to address specific challenges. The YMCA has welcomed much of the preparatory work that has been carried out, highlighting the Government’s commitment and willingness to engage with the sector. It is also important to highlight the significant amount of funding provided by the Government over the past five years, which the Minister has outlined.

The Government published their preliminary funding proposals on 15 September last year and these were then put out to consultation. Various concerns have been identified, and as we have seen with the announcement by the Prime Minister today on the removal of the local housing allowance cap for supported housing, the Government are very much listening.

There is a concern that the proposals are a one-size-fits-all approach and do not properly take account of the needs of the different parts of the sector—that has been highlighted by Centrepoint. There is also a worry that a postcode lottery might be created—Sense has highlighted that as well. We hope that today’s announcements will remove part of that concern, but the issue needs to be looked at closely.

There is clear evidence that developments are being put on hold; the Home Group advises that it has 1,842 homes in its build pipeline, but it has been unable to commit to developing these without clarity over future funding. There is a concern that the current proposed funding framework creates a funding gap for existing schemes—the YMCA has highlighted that. There are also worries about how the proposals will work alongside universal credit, as highlighted by Centrepoint and Emmaus.

On 1 May, the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee published their unanimous joint report, in which they made three recommendations to complement and build on the Government’s proposals. In my opinion, taking into account the feedback from across the sector, the Government should give full and serious consideration to adopting the recommendations. Along with five housing associations, my noble Friend Lord Best has looked at data from some 43,000 homes, and it appears that what they recommend does provide a viable and working option.

When the Government respond next week to the consultation that closed in February, they should put forward a revised funding framework. There should be a revised timetable for obtaining feedback on it, for carrying out an impact assessment and for road-testing it, and then for its introduction. There needs to be a clear direction of travel. As I have said, this is not a straightforward task, but I sense that by working together, a partnership of the Government, Parliament and the supported housing sector can put in place a long-lasting framework that addresses the concerns of many vulnerable people and in doing so provides them with dignity, peace of mind and hope.

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