Vulnerable groups face savage housing support cuts

Supporting People services are facing average cuts of 17% next year, hitting vulnerable groups such as mental health patients and homeless people.

Councils plan to cut their Supporting People programmes by between 26% and 37% over the next three years, a snapshot survey of English councils by homelessness umbrella body Homeless Link found.

This is well above the government’s projection that councils will see their budgets cut by 4.4% on average in 2011-12, and well below the notional cut in Supporting People funding from government of 0.9%. This funding is not ring-fenced but rolled into councils’ overall formula grant.

Now, charities that represent vulnerable groups are planning to jointly lobby councils against the cuts.

Homeless charities St Mungo’s and Homeless Link will be linking with the Centre for Mental Health and others to put together a briefing note to be sent to councillors and lead officers outlining the long-term savings that can be made from Supporting People.

Research has shown that the programme generates annual savings of £3.4bn for the public purse, against a cost of £1.6bn a year, by intervening early to prevent people needing more acute services.

“We are already seeing providers who will have to close next year as a direct result of these spending cuts,” said Drew Lindon, head of policy at Homeless Link.

“Our hopes are that where councils have to make cuts they are at the level government has made.

“Councils are in a difficult position, but they have to recognise the value of these services and to look at efficiencies within the council before any changes are made that will hit vulnerable people.”

He urged councils to make cuts at the level suggested by government.

In a recent letter to councils, the Department for Communities and Local Government acknowledged that the Supporting People budget was not ring-fenced, leaving councils free to decide how it should be spent. However, it said: “Ministers do not, however, expect authorities to respond to reductions in their budgets by passing on disproportionate cuts to other service providers, especially the voluntary sector.”

Last year, the National Housing Federation warned that 400,000 vulnerable people could lose vital support under projected cuts by councils to their Supporting People programmes.

Among planned cuts, Somerset has approved a £3m cut in its Supporting People programme from April 2011, representing an 18% reduction on its £16.5m budget allocation for 2010-11.

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