The Supporting People programme has been undermined by a lack of co-ordination at government level and urgently needs its financial future guaranteed, according to the Audit Commission.
In a report designed to influence the forthcoming national supporting people strategy, the commission says the government must adopt a “more joined-up approach to policy, guidance and funding”.
It says local authorities are still interpreting their Supporting People responsibilities inconsistently and recommends establishing national minimum standards and eligibility criteria.
And it argues that the lack of national co-ordination of the different priorities of health and social care, criminal justice and housing makes it difficult for staff to make the necessary connections locally.
Speaking at the report’s launch, the commission’s chief inspector of housing, Roy Irwin, said “mixed messages” from government were giving people on the ground “room for doubt as to what they should be doing with these resources”.
The report also argues that funding uncertainty is the programme’s “biggest barrier to progress” and urges the government to set out a long-term financial framework to underpin planning and investment.
The government had proposed to introduce a new needs-based distribution formula for the programme but its future is unclear. The report says that this uncertainty, together with a lack of commitment on when the annual grant reduction will end, has meant few local authorities are prepared to agree long-term contracts.
The report notes that national pressure on budgets is accompanied by the expectation of increased housing support services through initiatives such as Valuing People, which were introduced without associated funding.
It concludes: “It is unlikely that efficiencies alone will bridge the gap between expectations and resources in all areas. Inevitably some existing or prospective service users will lose out.”
The report authors are also unclear how Supporting People might interact with the adult care green paper agenda. And they call for clarity on assisting people who need cross-boundary support and a clear framework for linking capital and revenue budgets for new schemes.
But they stress that the programme has brought many improvements to housing support since its introduction and suggest there is little evidence to back wholesale structural change.
Supporting People: Refreshing the National Vision from www.audit-commission.gov.uk