Supporting People: two words that either bamboozle or excite.
After much anticipation, the government’s new funding regime for
housing with support finally went live in April this year. All
seemed to be going well until last month when the government
announced an independent review into the programme because of
growing costs. At the same time, it announced an extra £400m
funding to Supporting People in England for 2003-4 on top of the
£1.4bn announced in February (news, page 6, 23 October).
The review was ordered because the transitional housing benefit
element of Supporting People has increased by £400m from
original estimates by local authorities detailed last February.
Announcing the review in October, housing minister Yvette Cooper
said Supporting People was “essential to ensure vulnerable people
become and remain independent”.
The review, due to report back in December, is looking at:
- Whether Supporting People is meeting its original objectives,
including schemes that raise questions about compliance with grant
- Variations between local authorities’ costs and patterns of
- Services previously paid out of other budgets where it is
unclear how the resulting savings have been redeployed.
Rumours abound in the sector that the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister (ODPM) was pressured into launching a review by the
Treasury alarmed by the spiralling costs of the programme. However,
an ODPM spokesperson dismisses this and says it was the department
itself that “flagged up” its concerns about the increasing cost of
Supporting People to the Treasury. She says addressing the issue is
equally important to both departments.
Supporting People pledged to give individuals needing support more
independent lives. According to Diane Henderson, head of care,
support and diversity at the National Housing Federation, it has
done this. “Supporting People is £1.8bn of services to people
who really need support. Schemes that earlier existed hand to mouth
are now regularly receiving payment thanks to Supporting
Linda Rowbottom, contracts manager at learning difficulty charity
Mencap, describes Supporting People as a “real success”. She adds:
“It has enabled us to move ahead with helping people widely with
their housing choices.”
Despite the positive response Supporting People has received, it is
not without its problems. Kathleen Boyle, independent Supporting
People consultant, says, although the first seven months of the
initiative have run smoothly, there is “a huge level of uncertainty
about the programme”.
One cause of this is the two-month wait for the government to
report its review findings. Henderson says service providers will
now be putting together their budgets for next year and will be
unsure what to include. She says: “Will the review put in
cost-cutting measures? Will there be any money for new schemes post
National Housing Federation chief executive Jim Coulter has written
to Cooper warning that the review prolongs uncertainty. His letter
adds that, because Supporting People funding is guaranteed only
until April 2004, it makes business planning “for housing
associations and their voluntary agency partners difficult, adding
to concerns about long-term viability”.
The viability of new supported housing schemes being built with
Housing Corporation money is also a concern. Boyle knows of some
supported housing schemes that have been built, but there is now no
Supporting People cash to run them.
This point is picked up by Jane Livingstone, projects and services
manager of the Association for Real Change (ARC), a representative
organisation for people with learning difficulties and those
providing services to them. She says Supporting People service
providers are reluctant to develop their services because they do
not know if the money will exist to fund them after 2004.
She adds: “An ARC member told me they had decided to plan for a
residential home for people with learning difficulties rather than
supported living arrangements because they know they will get the
funding for it.”
One reason for the higher Supporting People costs is the large
number of people with learning difficulties who have used the
initiative to move into their own accommodation. The white paper
Valuing People contained a goal for more people with learning
difficulties to move from residential care into homes with their
own tenancies. Yet despite the fact that people with learning
difficulties make up 44 per cent of Supporting People’s clients,
initial costings for the programme did not take into account this
enormous shift in the way these clients are supported.
Boyle says that some social services departments used to fund
housing-related support because “the line between community care
and housing-related support is difficult to draw”. The rise in
demand for Supporting People funding came about when social
services saw that much of what they funded out of their community
care budget could be financed by Supporting People and transferred
it over. Rowbottom says Supporting People has given people with
learning difficulties “economic” independence and is to be
But some professionals are worried the government may try to
retrieve the money from the more expensive services that were
funded previously by social services. Mencap’s head of external
affairs, David Congdon, says: “If the government develops what it
is doing rather than claw money back it will avoid causing
disruption to the programme.” He urges the government to build on
Supporting People’s success and not “destroy” the initiative.
The National Housing Federation believes there has been “widespread
cost-shunting” from projects that should be funded by the
Department of Health. Henderson says it is a “fuzzy grey area”
where some people need high levels of support but their needs fit
the Supporting People funding criteria. “Valuing People is all
about what Supporting People is about,” she says. “But the ODPM and
the DoH appear to have different views on where the line between
care and support is.”
The review, Henderson says, should be able to identify where and if
Supporting People grant conditions have been broken by services
providing care instead of support. Coulter’s letter to Yvette
Cooper calls for a “clear definition” about what is regarded as
housing-related support. Without it, any success for Supporting
People may be short-lived.
How the grant is made up
In 1998 the government announced its plans to introduce a single
stream of funding to finance housing-related support services to
vulnerable people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The new
Supporting People grant is based on the transfer of funding from
several existing streams. These include elements of:
- The supported housing management grant.
- The probation accommodation grant.
- Jobseekers allowance.
- Transitional housing benefit.
- Income support.
In England the initiative is implemented by the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister; in Wales by the Welsh assembly and by the
housing executive in Northern Ireland. Supporting People funding is
a local government grant from the ODPM paid to and administered by
150 lead authorities. In turn these administering authorities run
Supporting People through partnerships with local social services,
health, housing and probation services.