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.

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