Underpinning complete

Paradoxically for a scheme that is all about housing support, Supporting People has never been entirely at home in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. As the government department responsible for housing, it has always been more interested in the bricks and mortar than the lives that are led within them. It is why the flood of demand that initially burst the scheme’s banks was so unexpected and why the ODPM keeps such a watchful eye on the boundary between “support” and “care”, however indistinct it may be.

This week’s consultation paper on a new strategy for Supporting People, while showing no inclination to shift responsibility to the Department of Health where it might sit more comfortably, does offer the hope of a more sensible approach. It goes some way towards answering the criticisms contained in the Audit Commission’s recent report, which blamed uncertainty over long-term funding and confusion over local priorities for housing, health and social care for some of the scheme’s shortcomings.

If the proposals are put into effect, funding will be fixed for three years rather than one and social care agencies will be the lead commissioners. It will be much easier to plan ahead; funding for providers will be assured for longer periods and the risks attached to investment in new services will be reduced; and it should also be easier for social care, health and housing to share the same priorities.

One of the more radical proposals is to split the Supporting People programme into three parts, each potentially with its own finance: housing support with care, low-level support and crisis support. This should make it simpler to adopt a preventive style of work based on local need. Individual budgets and direct payments, which could be available to people who require low-level support, would tie in well with the aims of the adult social care green paper.

A more worrying prospect is that Supporting People money could be handed over to councils as part of general local authority funding, even though they will be tempted to divert it to more popular causes. But, on balance, the strategy should put the programme on much sounder foundations.

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