Memorandum from Framework Housing Association (SPP 103)

 

 

Executive Summary

 

Supporting People has transformed the quality of services for vulnerable people

Framework is a specialist provider of the above

Prior to the existence of SP the quality of many services was poor

The impact of SP has been to enhance and improve them

The programme reaches a wide range of clients, including those in the greatest need

It forms a bedrock on which integrated networks of holistic services can be built

SP has helped to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as assisting the Government to deliver on a range of other priorities

The uncertainty surrounding the future of the programme has not been helpful

Continuous improvement has been achieved despite this

The ring fence is necessary to prevent the diversion of crucial resources needed for support to other services

LAA targets are too crude to capture the impact of Supporting People

Supporting People is a cost-effective programme

The ring-fence should be restored and SP retained as a distinct locally administered programme, with a broader definition of support

The above could include support in accessing education, training and paid work as well as housing-related support.

 

1. Supporting People: A Transformational Programme

 

1.1 The Government's decision, taken in the late 1990s, to establish and sustain a programme of support for vulnerable people, was truly inspired. The ensuing programme, known as 'Supporting People' (SP) has transformed the quality and scope of interventions, especially for those in greatest need - many of them out of contact with mainstream public services.

 

1.2 The proposal to remove the 'ring fence' from Supporting People (SP) and integrate its resources with the Area Based Grant, constitutes a grave threat to this achievement. The nature and extent of this threat will grow over time. Ministers should be urged to re-consider their ill-advised decision, the implications of which have not been fully understood. SP has recently been described as a 'secret' success story. Its disappearance within the Area Based Grant is likely to have negative consequences that will receive much greater publicity.

 

2. Framework Housing Association (FHA)

 

2.1 Framework Housing Association (FHA) provides outreach, accommodation, support, treatment, training, care and resettlement services to homeless and vulnerable people in Nottinghamshire. It is the product of a merger between two specialist charities (Macedon and Nottingham Help the Homeless Association) that took place in July 2001. In 2006 FHA (which is both a charity and a registered social landlord) was an inaugural winner of the Housing Corporation's Gold Award for Tackling and Preventing Homelessness.

 

2.2 The number of individuals served by Framework increased from 2,585 in 2001/02 to 5,325 in 2007/08. The service user groups who present to us include rough sleepers, homeless people, people with drug, alcohol and mental health problems and those with complex needs. Many of these individuals are not regarded by local authorities as being in priority housing need, despite being very vulnerable and socially excluded. We now work in every borough and district of Nottinghamshire. This enhanced 'reach' is one important outcome of Supporting People.

 

3. Supporting People: History

 

3.1 It is important to understand why Supporting People exists and what the situation was before it was conceived.

 

3.2 In the 1990s the provision of supported housing provision was very patchy, and floating support hardly existed at all. Homeless and vulnerable people invariably had to gravitate to large cities (particularly London) to access even the most basic of services.

 

 

3.3 These were frequently offered in sub-standard buildings using over-worked, underpaid staff with little or no linkage to mainstream public services. There were horror stories of poor and unsafe practice - including on occasions preventable deaths not only among service users but also of volunteers and paid staff.

 

3.4 Specialist services (both good and bad) were constantly under threat, risking closure at short notice due to lack of funds. Court cases were fought and appealed regarding the legitimacy of Housing Benefit as a source of funding for support. Dispute surrounded the indirect payment of Supported Housing Management Grant (SHMG) and the deductions made by housing associations channelling it to specialist providers. Local authorities cut grants to services they perceived to be assisting people from outside their area. Others closed their eyes to palpable need in the hope that it would migrate elsewhere.

 

3.5 Supporting People (SP) has transformed this unsatisfactory state of affairs. Services are more comprehensive, better staffed, have greater specialist expertise and wider geographical spread. The position now, though far from perfect, is infinitely better than the one that existed prior to 2001. We are using this date as our reference point because SP was a catalyst for change well before its 'live date' in April 2003. The Transitional Housing Benefit arrangements (pre-dating SP and lasting until March 2003) highlighted the under-funding of services and the extent of un-met need. It signalled a step change in the quality and effectiveness of support work.

 

3.6 To sustain and build on what has been achieved, it is crucial that Supporting People remains as a distinctive government programme. Unless it does there is a serious risk that the scope of services will be restricted and their quality will deteriorate. It is nave to assume (as the Government appears to do) that the positive changes wrought by SP can survive its demise.

 

4. The Impact of Supporting People

 

4.1 Supporting People (SP) has formally been in existence since April 2003. It funds the provision of housing-related support to enhance the quality of life for vulnerable people, and help them to live independently. Operating with this remit it has been a spectacular success.

 

4.2 The table below summarises the impressive difference that Supporting People has made to services for the following client groups in the City of Nottingham and the County of Nottinghamshire. These are Framework's core client groups - though the list also includes services provided by other organisations:

 

4.3 Table showing the impact of Supporting People in Nottinghamshire

 

 

Position prior to 2001

Position established since 2001

Services for Homeless People

(before 2001)

- Limited outreach work

- Two shelters in Nottingham (dormitories)

- 40 units of floating support in Nottingham

- Two small resettlement hostels in Nottingham

- Very little in the rest of the County

Services for Homeless People

(after 2001)

- More extensive multi-agency outreach work

- Purpose-built direct access services in Nottingham, Arnold, Newark and Worksop

- 190 floating support units in Nottingham

- Lifeskills training houses and/ or supported move-on flats in all seven County districts

- 160 floating support units across all seven County districts.

 

 

Services for Substance Misusers

(before 2001)

- Two small shared houses in Nottingham

- Limited access to treatment services

- Virtually nothing in the rest of the County

Services for Substance Misusers

(after 2001)

- Drug support team for Nottingham hostels

- 20 supported housing units in Nottingham

- 140 floating support units in Nottingham

- 24 supported housing units in the County

- 55 floating support units across all seven County districts

- One-stop drop in centres/ needle exchanges in four County locations

- Improved access to treatment services.

Services for Drinkers

(before 2001)

- One small 'wet hostel' in Nottingham

- Limited access to treatment services

- Virtually nothing in the rest of the County

Services for Drinkers

(after 2001)

- 25 supported housing units (with detox facility) in Nottingham

- 75 floating support units in Nottingham

- 13 supported housing units in the County

- 40 floating support units across all seven County districts

- Improved access to treatment services.

 

 

Position prior to 2001

Position established since 2001

Services for Ex-offenders

(before 2001)

- Access to nightshelters and other homelessness services for people leaving prison and those on probation

- Some specific provision in the form of small shared houses

- Concentration of (limited) provision in the City rather than the County

Services for Ex-offenders

(after 2001)

- 40 supported housing units specifically for offenders in Nottingham

- Access to floating support within generic units in Nottingham (see prevention services below)

- 50 supported housing units in the County

- 70 floating support units specifically for offenders across all seven County districts

- Improved access to drug & alcohol treatment

- Pre-release support work in prisons.

Services for People with Mental Health

Problems (before 2001)

- Homeless people with mental health issues moving on into residential care

- Others with enduring mental health issues remaining on long-stay hospital wards

- Community mental health teams distracted from specialist social and health care interventions by housing and welfare issues

- Very limited availability of community-based supports services to complement statutory mental health teams

- Inappropriate hospital admissions and extended stays due to non-health reasons

- Heavy burden on those caring for people with mental health problems in their own homes

Services for People with Mental Health

Problems (after 2001)

- Specialist supported housing scheme for people with mental health issues moving on from homeless hostels

- Supported tenancies and Resettlement (STAR) - a 'core & cluster' service for people leaving long-stay hospital wards

- 203 floating support units in Nottingham and another 240 across all seven County districts

- Reduced requirement on NHS to fund continuing care and in-patient rehabilitation

- Reduced requirement on Adult Services to fund registered care placements due to increased availability of supported housing with the emphasis on recovery and independence

- Floating support which addresses housing, welfare benefits and meaningful occupation requirements working closely with, and releasing capacity in, community mental health services

- Reduction in admissions and length of hospital stays for non-health related reasons

- Reduced likelihood of referral from primary to secondary care services

- More support for carers in domestic settings (including 'Carer Breaks').

 

 

Position prior to 2001

Position established since 2001

Homelessness Prevention Services

(before 2001)

- None

 

Homelessness Prevention Services

(after 2001)

- Specialist housing advice attached to all floating support teams

- Early warning system (housing officers to support workers) when signs of tenancy failure (eg. rent arrears) picked up

- Signposting to specialist (drug, alcohol and mental health) services as appropriate

- Court duty service to prevent evictions and follow up with rescue plan

- Education, training and employment (EVE) services to sustain independence.

 

The above table includes examples where support is delivered as a discrete service, and as part of a wider package including elements of housing, treatment, training and/or care.

 

5. Other Client Groups

 

5.1 Our table refers specifically to the impact of Supporting People (SP) on services for the vulnerable groups that Framework exists to serve. SP also has major benefits for:

 

- Teenage parents/ young mothers - Young people at risk

- People with learning disabilities - People with physical disabilities

- Gypsies and travellers - Older people

 

5.2 The above is not an exhaustive list. In each case it is the sub-categories of those in the greatest need (for instance young mothers experiencing domestic violence) that Supporting People (SP) has helped the most. The Government's emphasis on 'mainstreaming' SP is misguided - it implies reversion to the statutory agencies' traditional approach which is to categorise and (albeit often inadvertently) to exclude. An example is the difficulty faced by the group of people who use illicit drugs and/or alcohol to control the symptoms of a mental health problem. Mainstream substance misuse and mental health services both tend to reject them on the grounds that they don't fall neatly into either category.

 

5.3 Invariably it is an SP-funded service that picks up the pieces. But this capacity to work with those in the greatest need is unlikely to survive the integration of Supporting People in the Area Based Grant. Increasingly, commissioners based in SP Teams are coming to understand the factors to be considered in responding to 'complex needs'. But the phrase appears to mean little or nothing to those leading and servicing the work strands of Local Strategic Partnerships - most of whom have entirely different professional backgrounds.

 

6. The Resettlement Pathway

 

6.1 Working with its statutory and voluntary sector partners, Framework has worked hard to establish networks of complementary services. Not all of these services are funded by Supporting People (SP), but it is the bedrock on which many important networks are built. An advantage of this approach is that it allows services to be tailored to the needs of the individual rather than forcing individuals to adapt their needs to a limited range of provision.

 

6.2 The Resettlement Pathway is for homeless people, including rough sleepers. It was a major factor in the judges' decision to make Framework a recipient of the Housing Corporation's Gold Award in 2006. The Pathway consists of:

 

Street outreach work

Emergency direct access accommodation

Specialist supported housing

Move-on housing (both supported and unsupported)

Access to mainstream tenancies (with or without floating support)

Education, Volunteering and Employment (EVE)

 

6.3 Staff and service users working together on a resettlement plans can choose the combination of services that is most applicable to the circumstances- it is a user-centred model.

 

7. Does Supporting People Work?

 

7.1 Supporting People (SP) accounts for a tiny proportion (approximately a third of one per cent) of central Government expenditure. Services provided under SP's aegis are heavily monitored and subject to regular market testing. Indeed they are subject to greater scrutiny and challenge than alternative public services (such as hospitals, care homes and prisons) directly delivered by statutory bodies at much higher cost. But does SP work?

 

7.2 The figures below are taken from Quarterly returns sent by Local Authorities to the DCLG. They show that the period during which Supporting People services were established and developed throughout Nottinghamshire, was also a time in which the number of people presenting as homeless fell sharply. The level of acceptances also fell, and the reduction in the number of 'non-priority' homelessness cases was dramatic:

 

7.3 Table showing the reduction in Homelessness Presentations and Acceptances

 

 

Households

Presenting as Homeless

Households

Accepted as Homeless

'Non Priority' Cases

 

2002/03

2007/08

2002/03

2007/08

2002/03

2007/08

Ashfield

421

102

211

50

61

8

Bassetlaw

820

167

128

75

171

10

Broxtowe

242

86

221

58

6

5

Gedling

191

125

153

70

3

8

Mansfield

1,610

448

335

250

382

22

Newark & Sherwood

623

136

365

103

154

4

Rushcliffe

236

65

152

42

44

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total County Districts

4,143

1,129

1,565

648

821

74

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nottingham City

2,228

953

1,649

823

335

29

 

(Source: CLG Quarterly P1(E) returns)

 

7.4 Framework believes that these figures support the following propositions, reflecting the direct experience of workers based on the ground, that:

 

i) Homelessness prevention work (including floating support funded by SP) is increasingly effective;

 

ii) Local authorities are becoming more and more reluctant to accept households as homeless, and those that are so accepted are less likely to be considered as being in priority need;

 

iii) As argued above, many of those who are not deemed to be in 'priority need' are in fact in the greatest need;

 

iv) For those who can't find a way through the local authority's door, SP-funded services constitute an alternative route to housing, support and long-term resettlement.

 

7.5 In short, the figures reflect an element of 'gatekeeping' but they also demonstrate the success of the Supporting People Programme both in reducing the number of people who become homeless and in resettling those who do. Other indicators reinforce the message that homelessness has fallen sharply in recent years.

 

7.6 For instance, street counts using CLG's preferred methodology show a fall in the number of people sleeping rough in the City of Nottingham from thirty one (31) in 1998 to just three (3) ten years later. The Nottinghamshire-wide Homelessness Watch Survey (covering the City and all seven of the County Boroughs and Districts) shows a consistent pattern of reduction since 2005. It is interesting to note that this trend has been most pronounced amongst those client groups for whom the coverage of SP services is County-wide.

 

 

8. Has the Government achieved its Aims for the Programme?

 

8.1 'Independence and Opportunity - Our Strategy for Supporting People' published in June 2007, set out four key themes for the future of Supporting People (SP), as follows:

 

* Keeping people that need services at the heart of the programme

Local SP Commissioners, and many providers, have shown a great deal of commitment to the participation of service users in decision making. However, the Government has given no explanation of why it has cut the level of funding for SP, nor for its decision to remove the ring-fence. There is no substantive evidence of any service user involvement, or meaningful consultation with them, prior to the taking of these decisions.

 

* Enhancing partnership with the Third Sector

There are many Third Sector providers (including Framework) in the market to provide SP-funded services. Indeed SP is an excellent example of Public Service Reform - with public, private and third sectors all playing an active part. However, third sector agencies are finding it difficult (in some cases impossible) to chart a course through the complex structures of Local Strategic Partnerships to advocate for their service users. There is concern that the loss of SP commissioning frameworks will leave them increasingly marginalised.

 

* Delivering in the new Local Government Landscape

Audit Commission inspections show wide variation in the performance of local authorities when delivering support and associated services to the most vulnerable people. Many authorities simply do not regard it as in their interests to prioritise them - partly because some of the user groups are transient so the geographical pattern of demand tends to be led by supply. It is essential to retain sufficient central direction to ensure that unpopular groups (eg. homeless people, substance misusers, gypsies and travellers) are not excluded at local level.

 

* Increasing Efficiency and Reducing Bureaucracy

The improvement of services occasioned by the advent of THB and SP was not a 'one-off' event. It has continued since April 2003 and is on-going. We pay tribute to the work of Supporting People Teams and their Commissioning Bodies who have developed and implemented strategies to enhance the fit between the profile of needs and services, and challenged providers to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of what they deliver.

 

8.2 Supporting People (SP) has met and in some respects exceeded the original expectations that providers and service users had for the programme. However, there is one important respect in which the Government has failed to deliver on its initial undertakings. Supporting People has never enjoyed the stability it needed to be as effective as it might otherwise have been. Commissioners and providers have secured gains in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, despite being hampered by continuing uncertainty.

 

9. The Impact of Uncertainty

 

9.1 A regrettable aspect of the story so far is that central Government has never seen the need to afford stability to the Supporting People (SP) Programme. Uncertainty has dogged it from the outset. Initially this was because the Treasury under-estimated the likely cost. It failed to appreciate the capacity of SP to fill gaps in existing provision (as illustrated above) and to engage client groups that not hitherto been reached by mainstream public services. Since April 2003 the programme has endured:

 

- Overall cuts in real terms (in a period when the budget for other public services has been increasing)

- A re-distribution formula that was too radical and implemented and applied over too short a timescale

- Difficulty in securing capital to improve existing supported housing stock - because statutory funders are concerned about the ongoing revenue position

- An over-emphasis on procurement by competitive tendering, which has occupied significant time and resources and undermined trust between providers who need to work together.

 

9.2 Having developed a highly successful programme, central Government has failed to celebrate what is in fact a huge achievement. Instead it has undermined the Supporting People (SP) programme by reducing its budget and repeatedly failing to respond to requests for clarification regarding its future. The decision to remove the ring-fence is already leading to proposals for the abandonment of SP strategies and the dismantling of its commissioning structures at local level. The Government asserts that SP is not being abolished - but it is hard to reconcile this with the facts.

 

9.3 Local commissioners and providers should be commended for their ongoing delivery of continuous improvement in the face of this uncertainty; the Government should be asked for a cogent explanation.

 

10. Why the Ring-fence is Necessary?

 

10.1 It is suggested that in responding to the Select Committee's call for evidence we might advocate safeguards to ameliorate the impact of the Government's decision to remove the ring fence. However, the appropriate response to a bad decision is not to suggest ways of mitigating its effects, but rather to call for its reversal. This is what we are asking the CLG Select Committee to do in clear and unambiguous terms.

 

10.2 The ring-fence is necessary because without it the resources previously available through SP will be diverted to other activities. Political realism suggests this is not merely a fear, but a racing certainty. Already, Local Strategic Partnerships are refusing to confirm established commitments to planned SP projects of high strategic relevance. In some instances there are warnings of plans to re-negotiate existing contracts so as to reduce their cost.

 

10.3 Some (but not all) Local Area Agreements include one or both of the 'Supporting People' indicators as 'stretch targets'. However, NI 141 and NI 142 are poor substitutes for the more sophisticated output and outcome monitoring that is carried out by existing SP teams.

 

11. The Inadequacy of Local Area Agreement Indicators

 

11.1 A single example illustrates well the nature of the problem that Supporting People commissioners and providers now face.

 

11.2 In 2007-08 one of Framework's (SP-funded) floating support teams assisted 209 separate individuals who were facing eviction from their homes. The support offered included home visits, advocacy and attendance at court - with access to the services of a specialist housing advisor employed by us who also has experience as a barrister. 167 (79.9%) of the people we defended were able to stay in their home as a result of our intervention.

 

11.3 Unfortunately, none of this homelessness prevention work is directly relevant to any of the stretch targets in the Local Area Agreement. This will make it much more difficult to persuade the LSP to continue funding this work from the Area Based Grant when Supporting People is no longer a distinctive component within the ABG.

 

12. The Relevance of Supporting People to other Government Priorities

 

12.1 Supporting People (SP) is a 'cross-cutting' programme that has assisted central and local Government to deliver on key priorities in all the following areas:

 

Reducing homelessness and rough sleeping

Supporting drug and alcohol misusers into treatment (and sustaining them in it)

Reducing crime and anti-social behaviour

Providing alternatives to institutional forms of social and health care

Tackling welfare dependency

Increasing the number of people in education and employment

Strengthening the supply side of the labour market

 

12.2 The Select Committee is asked to consider whether the Government has taken into account the implications of the cuts it has made to the SP budget, and its decision to remove the ring-fence, for the priorities listed above.

 

13. Case Studies

 

13.1 Appended are six Case Studies[1], all of which describe the impact of interventions funded by Supporting People (SP) on the lives of individuals. These Case Studies reinforce the case for SP be sustained and properly funded as a distinct Government Programme.

 

13.2 The people whose stories are told here represent many thousands of others who have benefitted from the successful implantation of the Supporting People Programme.

 

May 2009



[1] Case studies not published to protect personal information.