Homeless Connect has submitted its response to the consultation on the Draft Supporting People Strategy 2022-2025.
What is the Supporting People Programme?
The Supporting People (SP) Programme is one of the key funding streams for the homelessness sector in this society. The programme is designed to fund housing support services to help people live independently or move in to independent living. The fund is worth £72.8 million annually and is administered by the Housing Executive.
Why does the Supporting People Strategy 2022-2025 matter?
The draft SP Strategy 2022-2025 outlines the strategic direction for the programme over the next three years. The Strategy has four main strategic priorities:
- Drive recovery and re-build from Covid-19, and prevent lasting adverse impacts from the pandemic, by targeting services towards those in need.
- Work towards closing the 14% gap between need and supply. This will be underpinned by evidence from the Strategic Needs Assessment (SNA), prioritising services for Older people; People with Mental health issues; Single homeless people with alcohol and drug problems; and women at risk of domestic abuse.
- Work with Supporting People providers, to invest in service innovation to achieve greater value for money and better outcomes for service users.
- Strengthen relationships across health, criminal justice and housing to achieve greater collaboration and sharing of risk with the aim of generating greater value from public funds to enhance available resources for housing support.
The Strategy outlines an array of actions which the Housing Executive, working with SP providers and other statutory bodies, will seek to implement to fulfil the strategic priorities.
This document matters because it will have a significant impact on homelessness sector providers. This of course feeds through to having an impact on those at risk of or experiencing homelessness, as the SP programme provides the funding for services many in this position rely on. It will help to shape funding decisions over the next three years.
What does Homeless Connect think about it?
We are broadly supportive of the direction of travel set out in the 2022-2025 SP Strategy. It is the product of a considerable amount of work by Housing Executive staff and we are grateful to them for the opportunity we have had to engage with them on its contents. In our consultation response, we put forward some suggestions for changes which we believe would strengthen the strategy. We further ask for clarity on some aspects of the document.
However, there is a fundamental challenge facing the Housing Executive regarding the SP programme over the next three years which is unfortunately out of their control. This is over the issue of funding.
The budget for the SP programme has been ringfenced since 2007. While it has been welcome that the budget has not been cut since then, unfortunately there has been no uplift to it since then either. The impact of inflation has been such that the value of the budget has fallen in real terms by over 30% since then. At the same time, there has been no fall in the numbers needing support and many of our members would highlight that the number of people with complex needs has been steadily rising.
It has become increasingly challenging for providers in the homelessness sector to recruit and retain staff, as the salaries and conditions providers can offer are proving insufficient to recruit suitably qualified staff. Added to this difficulty is the fact that SP providers are being hit by the significant rise in the costs of fuel, energy and agency costs.
The draft multi-year budget put forward in the last Assembly mandate did include, for the first time in fifteen years, a proposal to provide an uplift to the SP budget over the next three years. However, with the collapse of the Executive, the budget fell. It is unclear what the future holds for the SP budget after the Assembly election.
In her foreword to the draft strategy the CEO of the Housing Executive, Grainia Long, indicates that it is her view that she does “not accept that funding levels [for SP] are adequate”. We wholeheartedly agree.
The challenge for the SP strategy is that for it to be effective, it will need to be properly funded. The current level of funding being provided to the SP programme is simply not sufficient to achieve the worthy goals set out in the strategy.
In the months ahead, we will be urging our political leaders to recognise the urgent need to provide additional funding for SP. Reduction in services or even service closure, with all of the cascading consequences this would lead to, could be the result if funding is not increased in the near future.
You can read our consultation response in full here.