Homeless Connect expresses grave concern over budget allocation to the Department for Communities
The representative body for homelessness services in Northern Ireland, Homeless Connect, has responded to the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) on the budget allocation to the Department for Communities for 2023-4. The submission outlines an array of concerns around the budget allocation to homelessness.
Nicola McCrudden, Chief Executive Officer of Homeless Connect has issued the following statement.
“We are facing a deepening housing and homelessness crisis.
Over the last decade, the number of households with homelessness status on the social housing waiting list has increased by over 111%. Since 2019, the number of households in temporary accommodation has more than doubled. The homelessness system here is under enormous strain, with people having to wait several years in many cases to access social housing. Private rented sector rents have risen sharply and we are seeing increasing numbers of people losing their homes because of the sale of rented properties.
It is in this context that the Secretary of State has introduced a budget which leaves the Department for Communities with a funding gap of £111.2m (15.5%) in resource funding and a £59m (27.3%) shortfall for capital funding. The EQIA document contains proposals to cut the Housing Executive’s funding by 5% and to reduce the number of new build social homes from 2,000 to 1,400.
In its response to the EQIA, the Housing Executive makes clear that the indicative funding provided for homelessness leaves a shortfall of circa £7.4 million. It says this will create a situation where “it will be virtually impossible to provide services to prevent homelessness, with the overwhelming proportion of the homelessness budget focused on response rather than prevention.” This will not only have huge consequences for the people impacted, but it will put additional pressure on an already overburdened system and will cost the public purse more in both the shorter and longer term.
In addition, the fund which supports people living in temporary accommodation and floating support in communities, is also facing a cut. The Supporting People Programme Budget had been frozen for fifteen years from 2007 to 2022. Year on year, the value of the fund eroded due to the impact of inflation. After many years of advocating, a much-needed uplift of 5.8% was provided by the Department of Communities in 2022/3 to the fund bringing its value to circa £77 million. This uplift did not rise to the level of inflation in that year, but at least allowed organisations to increase wages. However, the indicative funding envelope given to the Housing Executive suggests that a cut to the programme is on the cards with only £72.9 million being indicatively allocated. Having waited so long for an uplift, providers are now faced with the possibility of a cut just one year after an uplift was granted.
Our members have made it amply clear to us that there is nothing left to trim in their budgets. If a cut is imposed, there is a risk of losing staff which will result in service reduction and possible service closures. As pointed out in its response to the EQIA: “the Housing Executive is concerned that some support schemes may be unviable for partners, who might choose to close services.”
At a moment when the numbers in need of support continues to rise significantly, a cut to funding will only exacerbate an already incredibly difficult situation. The sector has for many years been struggling with the recruitment and retention of staff, as providers are simply unable to match the pay and conditions available in other sectors of the economy. The impact of any service closures will cascade throughout the system and the affect will be felt on other sectors such as health, social care, policing and criminal justice. Yet again, the homelessness sector is facing an impossible position, desperately wanting to play our part in preventing and reducing homelessness alongside the Housing Executive and other statutory partners but struggling to do so with the level of resources being provided.
The proposed budget allocation to the Department could also set back years of positive work in the area of homelessness prevention. It is manifestly obvious that we should be preventing homelessness before it happens rather than reacting to it. The cuts to the Housing Executive budget; the reduction of the discretionary support grant; potential cuts to the Supporting People Programme; and the reduction in the number of social homes being built collectively puts greater emphasis on a crisis response.
I passionately believe together we can take the journey to end homelessness. We are not fatalistic about the possibility of real and meaningful change. With the right policy and adequate resources, such change is possible. This budget, however, will set us back, not take us forward. It has very real and detrimental consequences for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people living in our society. The highest priority for the Secretary of State and our political parties here should be to protect them. Instead, this proposed budget most heavily impacts those who are least able to shoulder the burden.
We strongly urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this budget and for our political parties to do everything they can to ensure the homelessness sector has the resources it needs in the face of a very challenging situation. We have had strong support from political representatives across the spectrum for funding for homelessness prevention and the Supporting People Programme. The restoration of the Executive is needed to ensure that these priorities are met in future budgets.”
For media enquiries, please contact our Policy and Public Affairs Manager Mark Baillie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to the editor:
- Homeless Connect is the representative body for the homelessness sector in Northern Ireland with member organisations providing homelessness services including temporary accommodation, street outreach, day centres and floating support www.homelessconnect.org
- You can read Homeless Connect’s response to the Department for Communities Equality Impact Assessment here.
- You can read the Housing Executive’s response to the Department for Communities Equality Impact Assessment here.