Peter Aldous is the MP for Waveney.
Heidi Allen and I have written on these pages recently about the importance of supported housing in the light of the long anticipated Freud Review into the funding of that sector. The subsequent statement made by Damian Green is to be very much welcomed as it offers reassurance to the whole sector with a commitment to maintain existing levels of funding beyond 2019-20. However we still await Lord Freud’s detailed recommendations and the public consultation announced by the Secretary of State and thus it is important to continue making the case not only for supported housing in general but specifically for that proportion of the sector that enables the most vulnerable to live in the community; this is known as Specialist Supported Housing. Will the vital exemptions that enable these developments continue within the new funding regime?
Estimates indicate that Specialist Supported Housing accounts for only around one per cent of the overall government spend on housing benefit. It is a small but increasingly important offer that is helping the Government to deliver its health and social care priorities of developing new and better ways to move people with complex care needs out of costly and often inadequate institutional care. Specialist Supported Housing instead offers homes which are adapted for individual requirements with onsite care but which sit within high quality developments in the community enabling residents to play a constructive role in the wider world.
There is no doubt that this provides a better quality of life for individuals who might otherwise receive a one size fits all model of care in institutions that however well-intentioned can feel cut off from real life or worse; inadequately resourced to cater for the range of special needs required. But whilst that has to be the primary driver for developing this specialist sector there are strong financial incentives as well which should inform the Government’s decision making when Lord Freud makes his recommendations.
Earlier this year, in response to the Government’s reasonable intention to cap excessive expenditure on housing benefit and local housing allowance (LHA) a group of innovative providers came together under the umbrella of the Specialist Supported Housing Group (SSHG). This group includes a commercial developer, HB Villages, which is building schemes throughout England, in partnership with care providers, housing associations and suppliers of innovative, adaptive technologies that allow each home to be customised to individual need. Typical of an HB Villages development is the Ropewalk Gardens supported living development in Grimsby which is transforming the lives of its residents.
Danny Wright, aged 29, who lives with autism, has only been able to experience the independence he has craved since moving to his apartment in the development. By the time he moved in two years ago his parents had investigated all the options for his care which had become too difficult and complex to practically deliver at home. Designed entirely around his needs and incorporating the very latest technology – the flat has proved a compelling example of how supported living can give those with physical and learning abilities a new sense of identity and dignity.
From playing snooker and enjoying takeaways, to going on holidays, making friends and having a social life of his own – it has enabled him to gain new skills that continually build his character and strengthen his independence while rebuilding a new relationship with his family based on choice rather than circumstances.
Schemes such as these are not initiated by a profit motive. They are only built when commissioned by a local authority according to their adult social care needs. And the capital cost to that authority? None. The SSHG has developed a model where the build costs are 100 per cent paid by the private sector in the form of a long term investment from blue chip backers, typically British pension funds who are looking for a safe, steady return for their shareholders. This return comes in the form of the above-market rents thus far assured through an exemption for such properties from cuts to housing benefit.
Given that the Government’s stated policy is to wind down institutional care, hastened by scandals such as Winterbourne View, it may seem surprising that the rate at which specialist supported housing schemes is growing has slowed. Even putting aside existing care needs estimates show there are currently 70,000 adults like Danny with complex care needs living with elderly parents.
What will happen to those people when their parents are no longer able to care for them and there are far fewer institutional places than now? Specialist Supported Housing could offer the solution but without a strong indication from government that exemption from housing benefit cuts will continue for this very small proportion of the overall supported housing sector, that essential long term private investment will go elsewhere, quite possibly abroad.
Lord Freud has the capacity to make a huge difference not only to the quality of lives of people who are some of the most vulnerable in society, but also to give impetus to an innovative model which is consistent with government policy – coming out of the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury.
Ideally, the SSHG would like the Government to give a strongly worded guarantee that the housing benefit exemptions will continue. Whilst no government can bind a future one the sector needs as much of a guarantee as is possible if it is going to reassure investors and get the funding it needs to start building schemes.
Whilst the specialist sector has welcomed an early statement from the Secretary of State stressing the importance of supported housing in general and the devolving of funding streams to local authorities it remains imperative that Lord Freud’s review distinguishes in favour of this type of housing if the model has any chance of growing adequately to respond to need. The right statement from government can really get this sector moving, which is certainly in the interests of all the agencies involved but more importantly can deliver safe, affordable, independent living for some of our most vulnerable friends and neighbours.