Homeless Connect, the representative body for the homelessness sector in Northern Ireland, has welcomed the news that the Supporting People Programme budget will receive an uplift in this financial year for the first time since 2007.
The Supporting People programme is administered by the Housing Executive on behalf of the Department for Communities to “provide housing support services to vulnerable people, to enable them to live as independently as possible in the community.” Funding is provided across four areas: homelessness, disability and mental health, older and younger people. Around 85 organisations receive funding for over 850 housing support services. This goes to help 19,000 people to live independently across Northern Ireland. The programme had a budget of £72.8 million in 2021/2.
The Housing Executive has recently written to organisations who receive Supporting People funding telling them that they will receive a backdated increase of 4.6% on current rates from 1 November 2021 and then a further 1.2% on that rate from 1 April 2022.
Nicola McCrudden, Chief Executive Officer with Homeless Connect has welcomed the news.
“We are very pleased to hear that additional funding has been made available by the Department for Communities to provide this much needed uplift.
The Supporting People programme is a key funding stream for homelessness services here, with around thirty eight percent of the budget going towards organisations, mainly charities, in the homelessness sector. For a number of years these organisations have been struggling to cover increasing costs as funding was not keeping up with inflation.
Homeless Connect, along with its members and other supporting people providers, has been calling for an uplift in funding for a long time. We are very pleased that we have been heard, and that action has been taken. I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Housing Executive who in recent years has been very supportive in our call for increased funding for the programme.”
Homeless Connect recently published research on staffing challenges in the sector which highlighted that homelessness services are in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis. The report, published in September 2022, “Staffing Challenges within the Northern Ireland Homelessness Sector” found that the workforce is highly dedicated but that pay has been a major factor impacting on organisations’ ability to recruit and retain staff. While other sectors have been able to improve the pay and conditions they offer, this has simply been impossible for many organisations in the homelessness sector because of the failure to provide any uplift to the Supporting People budget.
Ms McCrudden continued
“Being able to provide our dedicated and highly skilled staff a wage uplift will in itself be formal recognition of the amazing work they do. It will hopefully help to stabilise workforces and enable us to attract new staff into our sector.
This uplift is incredibly welcome, but at the same time the reality is that even with this increase, funding is not where it should be had inflationary uplifts been granted over the past fifteen years. In future, Supporting People funding should keep up with inflationary increases. Let us learn from the past and not make the same mistakes.
We are in the midst of a homelessness crisis, with numbers in temporary accommodation reaching levels I have never witnessed in my entire career.
A properly funded homelessness sector, working with its statutory partners, can prevent and reduce homelessness.
This announcement is an important step in recognising the value and importance of the voluntary sector in providing vital support to people in need.”
 Homeless Connect (previously known as Council for the Homeless NI) has been working to prevent and alleviate homelessness in Northern Ireland since 1983. As a membership body, we represent organisations working with people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless and provide direct support to service users through our projects. You can read more about our work at our website, www.homelessconnect.org.
 You can find out more about the Supporting People Programme on the Housing Executive website at https://www.nihe.gov.uk/working-with-us/supporting-people/about-the-supporting-people-programme.