14 February 2011

Bulletins from the front: deep cuts, unplanned cuts, malicious cuts?

Services being cut…the vulnerable becoming yet more vulnerable…..those who work in public services nervously eyeing the post for the ‘your job is at risk’ notification. Oh, and one public toilet in Manchester. We live in times of concern, worry and uncertainty – well, we do if we are concerned with the welfare of others.

But we knew this was coming; the swing away from investing in the population was going to come at some point (I still haven’t made my mind up if all that spending was ok, being as it came at the apparent cost of letting the City do whatever it pretty much fancied for over a decade). 

The decisions and beliefs lieing behind the reductions in public spending are surely more ideological than practical, despite the protestations to the contrary. I can live with that. Some of us have seen the swing from investment in the population, via increases in spend on hospitals, schools, housing – well, social housing services if not bricks and mortar – and the swing back to cuts, cuts, cuts. What does appall me is the subsequent response from the public sector itself. 

Working in the world of Supporting People I’ve seen the budget swell larger each year – until this year, with massive cuts apparently required, a series of reductions now have to be made. From the apparent top to bottom of the local government I can see in action the rationale behind what goes and what stays is  and, ….well, frankly, the playground can see more sophisticated decision making processes. 

We have a reduction in the number of staff in the team – but is this based on any kind of reasoned approach, a setting of priorities for the programme that needs a particular set of individuals with the right skills, expertise and knowledge to make the best use of limited resources? 

Guessing you know the answer to that. No, of course not. The whole element of measuring service quality, the staff that actually have contact with the people who use services and those who work every day in those services – looks like its going to be gone baby, gone. 

We’ll still be counting numbers though. We’ll be able to tell you how many,and where. Just not what’s actually going on for people, whether the service is actually making a difference or, worse, whether the service is safe or not. 

It just gets better. In my na├»ve reasonings (hah!), I had considered that a thoughtful and planned approach to cutting Housing Support Services would be adopted, with thought about which service for which individuals would have the most consequences if they were reduced – or, in many floating support services in our County, gone altogether. 

But again – no. Actually cuts are being made with no rationale and reason. Except that sometimes it seems to take the form of malice. A sense of old scores being settled prevails at times. And I am all too aware that any discussion about the people living in these services, those who are being supported in situations where there is no other support available – there is no thought for them, none that I have seen. I just see a ruthlessness by some to keep their own jobs intact, at any cost. This isn’t what I came in for.

08 February 2011

Reporting in - News from the South West

I have maintained radio silence for the last couple of months watching how things unravel, but now it is time to break cover.

Between now and the end of February councils will be setting their budgets for next year and then we will have a much better idea of the fate in store for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

It seems that unitary authorities are being as short sighted as the executive councils when it comes to removing the funding for a whole swathe of services which currently provide a safety net for those people with multiple vulnerabilities, none of which hit a threshold for a statutory service. Admittedly a lot of the statutory services are being cut too probably by setting the priority criteria even higher.

A colleague of mine who works for a district housing department bemoaned that it is as if this government have decided on a full on attack on housing;

The grant given to Housing Associations to build new social and affordable housing has been completely cut, but they are still supposed to deliver new housing stock, how? by taking out loans - but how will they repay the loan I hear you ask - through the rent they charge. "affordable" rent = 80% of the market rent, social rent can be whatever (interestingly, I saw a bedsit for rent from a housing association for £103. per week today how affordable is that!!).

The bottom line is with loans to repay the Housing Associations are going to take less risks on who they give a tenancy to; the young and upwardly mobile for "affordable" housing or those on 100% benefit (social housing).

Already the place of last resort social housing will become the sole residence for the sick, unemployable and the dispossessed with that social calamity of the sink estate making an unwelcome reappearance.

Changes to housing benefit will shut yet another escape route for those trying to dig themselves out of the poverty hole. Changes to the Local Housing Allowance will mean that those receiving Housing benefit will only be able to afford property with a market rent that falls in to the lowest 30% (so that will be all the crap accommodation then). but if you are under 35 and single then you will only qualify for the rent for a single room in a shared house.

All is not doom and gloom. If there is a will there is a way.

In the face of cuts to the Supporting People budget Exeter City Council are looking at innovative and cost effective ways to maintain some housing in the city for non priority homeless. The STAR scheme which has been running for 2 years can offer a temporary flat to someone rough sleeping giving them among other things a reference for a rent deposit scheme. This scheme uses part of the housing act which says a council can house someone without accepting a duty toward them, it counts as temporary accommodation so the council can claim top rate housing benefit and the excess is then used to buy in a bit of floating support. Any local authority could do this even if they don't own their housing stock.

I guess what I am trying to say is things are bad, the outlook for the year ahead is grim, but there are ways to keep on ensuring that there is some support available for those people who traditionally slip through the net and we have to keep trying.
The time for moaning is over, the time for action is now

Over and out.