Labour held an Opposition Day Debate on Wednesday on the Government’s policies on supported housing which a coalition of charities providing supported accommodation for vulnerable people have warned about.
Liz Rutherford, SHP Chief Executive, before the debate said: “Supported housing can be a lifeline for vulnerable homeless people, providing the stability that is essential if they are to get back on their feet and move toward more independent living and to employment. The cut in social housing rents will undermine our ability to provide the support our clients need to achieve these goals. At a time when homelessness is already rising sharply, this could lead to further strain in other areas of public services such as the NHS and criminal justice, and risk incurring significant economic costs further down the line.”
I believe that the measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill will be the death knell for some supported accommodation projects. The Bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, proposes to reduce social housing rents in England by 1% a year over the 4 years commencing on 1st April 2016. The Government has argued that this will save money paid in housing benefit estimated as £1.995bn.
One homelessness organisation in the North-East of England has said that 50% of their accommodation projects will be financially unviable in 2016 and 100% financially unviable by 2017. Their residents are some of our most vulnerable citizens, including older people, people who are homeless, people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities, and those fleeing domestic violence, people with learning disabilities.
Although all housing providers will be affected by these cuts it is those providing supported housing who will be most adversely affected. This is on top of previous cuts to funding for housing-related support. According to the National Audit Office, between 2011 and 2015, 45% on average was cut, while at the same time demand for supported accommodation has soared reflecting our ageing society.
The provision of supported housing is specifically designed to help disabled or disadvantaged people to achieve or remain as independent as possible. With this threat hanging over supported housing providers, I am really concerned at what will happen to the people currently living in supported homes and to those who are already waiting for this type of accommodation. Even at this late stage there is still time for the Government to do the right thing and I was pleased to see the Government defer for a year supported housing from this 1% cut during Wednesday’s debate, though they have stopped short of full exemption, which we called for.
In addition to this, the Chancellor announced at the Autumn Statement housing benefit changes which introduce a new low cap on housing benefit costs across all types of social housing without any concession for supported accommodation. It will affect all new tenancies signed after April 2016, and come into force from April 2018.
Analysis conducted by the Placeshapers group of housing associations for Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, John Healey MP, has shown that a further 440,000 vulnerable people could be affected by these cuts.
If nothing is done, vital supported housing across the country will close, and the people who rely on them will be forced out. The Government’s review into supported housing must now look properly at the cap and at exempting supported housing completely from the 1% rent cut.