Homelessness and Housing First

Today sees a formal announcement by Crisis and the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Mayor Steve Rotheram of the first large scale Housing First policy in the UK. Regrettably this is doomed to fail as the composition of the social landlord housing stock across the LCR area is entirely unsuitable for the Housing First model.

I have explained why it is unsuitable here in some detail on my SPeye Joe ordpress site but essentially because all six councils that make up the LCR area have a pitifully low level of the necessary 1 bed properties for Housing First to work.  The English national average is 28.2% and still we have a chronic shortage of 1 bed properties as the bedroom tax policy reveals while the average 1 bed percentage across the LCR area is barely half this English average figure at 15% with a range of 12.41% in St Helens up to 16.72% in Knowsley.

Having worked in homelessness for over two decades from a casual or relief hostel worker position whilst at university to advising literally scores of homeless hostel providers on a national basis as a consultant and all positions in between, I write as an acknowledged expert in this area and I passionately love working in homelessness and want to see radical change such as Housing First and other policies adopted within it.  So it is with sadness that I say this Crisis / LCR proposal is doomed and the proposal and policy is built on sand given the acute shortage of suitable properties in the LCR area.

The will is there to change and often that is the critical factor especially for perceived undeserving NIMBY client groups such as single homeless yet it counts for nought when the even more critical component of suitable properties is just not there. Despite the admirable intentions and the best efforts of the good research that has gone into this – 141 pages in the full report – that too counts for nothing given the lack of suitable properties in the LCR area.

Despite the political will, however prescient and ignoring that the LCR Mayor has little real powers in this arena which still remain with each local authority within the LCR umbrella, the proposal is doomed to fail due to a lack of suitable properties.

Even if enough suitable properties could magically appear out of the ether this proposal would be difficult and challenging and would probably fail too because of what homelessness is – an extremely complex and volatile sector with many different nuances from one place to the next and costly and time-consuming just to contain the problems that the state of being homeless causes let alone solve them.

Homelessness is de facto about people and not about bricks and mortar or ‘units’ or any other such term and each homeless case is different and individual. Homelessness does not lend itself to generic or quick fixes nor can it hold sway as it did throughout the Supporting People era post 2003 that a large part of homelessness support can be generic.  Homelessness can never be ‘solved’ by an attitude of here is £x of money do the best you can with that; it needs much greater involvement than that and enough funding to allow the best quality of service needed for the hugely complex issues, often interrelated issues, that arise in every homeless case.

Even then I doubt that homelessness can be solved as it is not and never will be a simple or even definable issue. By definition and experience homelessness is an inordinately complex and highly nuanced area.

Rough sleeping is a tiny part of homelessness, a subset if you will that sees around 4600 sleep rough while 37000 or so live in temporary homeless hostels.  Using those figures rough sleeping comprises 10% or so of single homelessness, yet is the most publicly visible.

Being homeless is not being roofless either it is so so much more than that … and then domestic abuse is often seen (wrongly) as a subset of homelessness while more correctly homelessness is an inevitable consequence and symptom of domestic abuse.

While we have such subjective views on what is and is not homelessness – and the above merely details professionals differing viewpoints not the general public’s perception or the politicians view – we can never solve it as we can’t fully define what the hell we wish to solve!  We haven’t even got to the Hello, my name is Joe and I’m an alcoholic stage yet despite being 50 years since Cathy Come Home thrust homelessness onto the national agenda. If you can’t define the problem in 50 bloody years then how the hell can you solve it?!

We have too many of the usual suspects making homelessness a profession and they all tend to concentrate on top down services such as starting from the problems that homelessness causes (!!) for governments central and local and not approach homelessness from the bottom up.  I could draft a PhD length thesis on that point alone but what I mean by that is essentially (a) what works works and (b) what works costs far less in the end as it is done right first time.

Housing First is radical in comparison to what the existing system is, yet what we need to even attempt to solve homelessness is a Person First approach. Sure, no doubt that allocating bricks and mortar unconditionally of addressing support needs is better than we now have, yet it needs to go 10 times further to get anywhere near solving what the state of homelessness does and creates and costs.

In my time working on the front line of homelessness I had many heated discussions with my then higher ups.  They centred on my view that the better quality provision you give to a person who is homeless (a) the more they respect that property and (b) the much greater they ‘engage’ and address their support needs.  It always worked yet point (a) was almost anathema to the social landlord who had a predetermined and false position of risk, and point (b) become just another victim of the SP regime as commissioners treated those who needed support as mere units of costs in their frenzy to adopt the here’s all the money your getting position of the bean counter.

Such negative approaches do not work and we have decades long proof of those pejorative starting points as failure and commissioners and landlords make the same mistakes over and over again with this prejudicial mindset.

Of course it doesn’t help that all local councils as commissioners have to balance the books and only see all supported housing costs in the immediate short term for support and shortly we will have central government doing this with housing benefit with the LHA Maxima Cap; both are short termism writ large and lead to greater homeless need and longer term higher cost as the classic example of decimating and all but eradicating funding from PREVENTATIVE support services from 2009 onwards with the SP ringfence removal has no led to the social care crisis we see today of horrific added costs than before.

[Yes that does blame the last Labour lot for today’s social care funding crisis and correctly so!]

Homelessness has its own unique set of support and costs needs as every accommodation based support has for each very different client group and does deserve to be viewed in that correct dimension and with the same level of specialism and deservability that commissioners view domestic abuse for example, yet that is a huge cultural change, a seismic one that is unlikely ever to happen, yet until it does and we actually define what ‘homelessness’ is and from the bottom up, we will never solve the problems it is said to cause…

 

 

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Welcome Housing Minister

Dear Alok Sharma,

Welcome to your new position as the Housing Minister; a role many consider to be a poisoned chalice or just a stepping stone to higher ministerial office.

May I offer one simple piece of advice which is get to know the 36% or more of housing in the UK that is rented which, alas, none of your predecessors of all political parties have, and especially since DCLG known reports in the last week say will increase to 41% of UK housing by 2021.

Rented housing is not binary with the private rented sector (PRS) and the social rented sector (SRS) alone as the SRS differs markedly both inter and infra-regionally and at times within the same local authority area.

You will hear opinion from self-professed experts who will claim that each of these sectors has universal constants yet such a position is naive and errant in the extreme.

You will hear calls for solutions to allegedly constant social housing problems yet at best these are problems that affect just Greater London which has just 13% of all housing in Great Britain with the obvious consequence that any national housing policy aimed at this 13% may not in all probability solve housing problems in the other 87% of Great Britain.

Another huge failing would be to accept London housing variables as a benchmark with one example being its housing tenure is crudely split 50%:25%:25% for home ownership to PRS to SRS, while in every other English region we see a split of circa 66%:18%:16%.

  • In short 1 in 2 houses in London is rented yet 1 in 3 elsewhere
  • London at 25% SRS has 50% more social housing than any other English region
  • London at 25% PRS has 50% more private housing than any other English region

Please do not make the common two mistakes that all previous Housing Ministers of the last 30 years or more have made in creating national housing policy based upon London’s wholly atypical housing market.

All of the above your new department publishes in the English Housing Survey and yet all your predecessors have ignored for whatever reason culminating in policy failure in the rest of GB as well as in London where further factors such as perverse rent levels sees any government have no control over.

You will also find a cleavage that is bordering on a chasm within SRS landlords and between housing association and council landlords.  Yet that too is not binary and there is a further cleavage between (mostly) the larger non LSVT housing associations who seek to become super-sized and in every UK region and the LSVT housing associations who by virtue of being the former council housing departments are typical happy to remain in geographical location and not wish to ‘conquer’ every city, town, village and hamlet in the UK.

These wannabee super-sized housing associations rewrite the business manual on hyperbole and maintain that they are and can be a major actor in solving the housing crisis of under supply.  Yet they do not have the capacity to do so and their record gross output (i.e. before deducting demolitions) is just 14% of the universally accepted need of 275,000 new homes per year.

You should and I expect will be likely to place more store by the wished of the Daily Telegraph than the housing association umbrella bodies who eschew hyperbole and you may be surprised that the Telegraph solution to the under supply UK housing crisis is the same as a chap called Corbyn.

That solution is to allow local councils to be able to borrow against their assets in order to build new housing.  English councils have built well over 250,000 homes per year in the past and were still building more than 100,000 as late as 1979/80 and they do have the capacity and the inclination to return to such levels providing the inane policy of forcing LAs to sell such properties in order to fund the claimed extender RTB discounts given to housing association tenants is abandoned and which being a new Minister with a new broom makes absolute sense.

To talk of the bigger UK housing picture in political ideological terms I suspect you wish to get the current 64% home ownership rate back up to the 71% level we saw in 2004 and the easiest, best and quickest way to achieve that is to have far more council housing at social rent levels!  The lower the rent level the greater and more quickly the council tenant can save for a deposit is one obvious factor that your predecessors chose to not see.

The quicker the deposit is achieved the quicker more home ownership can take place.

Another benefit that is so blindingly obvious that your predecessors failed to see is that the lower the rent the greater the job security and the lesser the reliance on welfare and social security benefits as a tenant can afford to take up lower paid employment that of course also reduces ‘welfare’ and increases the tax take too.

In summary, have an open mind and see the wood from the trees.  Housing is a cross-party issue and should always be an apolitical one. The Labour Party as well as your own Conservative Party want increased home ownership and all puns aside we all want strength and stability that good quality and genuinely affordable housing brings.  There is no need to either politicise rented housing and to make it opaque with complex delivery vehicles such as Local Housing Companies or other devices aimed at circumventing the ideological madness which sees local authorities being able to borrow to build anything other than housing.

With more genuinely affordable housing employment is up, the housing ladder has shorter and quicker steps, unemployment and the welfare bill and poverty rates all fall and achieve that by seeing the bloody obvious also provide the shortest and quickest steps up the political ladder too!

What may today appear as the poisoned chalice in being named the Housing Minister can be the exact opposite in all the above obvious ways.

Regards

Someone who will never vote for you or your party but despite that will praise you when you do the right thing which in housing policy terms based on your predecessors of the last thirty years would be easier to locate the Holy Grail

Friday 9 June 2017 – The Corbyn factor

The landslide Tory majority hasn’t happened though they do have an overall majority of between 20 and 35 seats … is what I expect to be the outcome of the 2017 General Election. I hope I am badly wrong and it is not what I wanted and the country will be all the worse for it in my view yet that is my prediction.

As a political scientist (a pretentious way of saying I hold my first degree in Politics) the post general election will be fascinating and hugely unstable for ALL political parties.

The Tories will be outwardly euphoric yet know they have an electoral liability in Theresa May as they privately admit any monkey with a blue rosette on as Conservative leader should have resulted in a landslide 120 + seat majority against the ‘unelectable’ Jeremy Corbyn.

Theresa May knows her days are numbered yet also knows she is safe as the Conservatives must rally round and let her get on with Brexit negotiations. Yet being the political animal she is Theresa May will stand down before 2022 and the next scheduled general election – she will go before she is pushed though the Tory spin doctors will say it is her decision when it is clearly not.

If you think that is unstable (as well as obviously being speculative) the Labour Party will implode and even split into two parties.  Jeremy Corbyn may well get 36% + of the vote which is more than any previous Labour leader in the past 40 years except Blair in 1997 (43.2%) and in 2001 (40.7%) and maybe more than Blair’s success in 2005 when he got 35.2%.

The latest UK opinion poll  – in the context of Labour leaders

lab % share leaders

The unelectable Corbyn as the right wing factions within Labour have always referred to him will have done spectacularly well if he gets more than 30.4% of the vote which is what Miliband got in 2015 and Brown got just 29% of the vote in 2010. Corbyn was supposed to be the death knell for the Labour Party in the Blairite and Prospect and New Statesman and Fabian Society views and get less of the vote share than Miliband, yet the latest polling has him at up to 38% of the vote which is phenomenal success.

The electorate do NOT see Jeremy Corbyn personally as some ultra left-wing bogey man as the Labour right-wing and every other political party sought to portray him and the electorate genuinely like his policies, both of which dispel the unelectable person and unelectable policy labels he was saddled with by the ‘blue’ Labour Party factions of Blairites, Prospect, Fabians and the New Statesman.  What is there for Blue Labour to do but to bugger off and start a new ‘Labour’ party?

The UK Labour Party is in dire straits and the many schisms become a massive chasm.

The Liberal Democrats are back to their usual level of perhaps 20 seats, a political non-entity and UKIP are dead in the water thank God.

Northern Ireland is in turmoil as the prospect of a united Ireland becomes a real possibility with Brexit.

Wales may huff and puff a bit yet Plaid Cymru despite having a credible high profile and liked leader will get no more than a handful of seats as per usual.

Scotland is in turmoil as a second independence vote looks increasingly likely and wanted by the Scots who once again will vote in their droves for the SNP.  IF Corbyn does get 38%+ of the vote he may well deny Theresa May an overall majority  – and a Tory government propped up by the SNP would undoubtedly ensure that would only happen IF Theresa May gives a second independence vote to Scotland, which politically, she cannot do while seeking the best deal for the United Kingdom as part of Brexit negotiations as it massively weakens her hand.

Much of the above is pretty obvious despite by definition being speculative yet I have not heard and not read any commentaries on them so far in this general election campaign.

There is a hell of a long way to go and a hell of a lot more arguments to come yet I suspect they will have to stop purely focusing on the May versus Corbyn only footing which Theresa May chose to set in train 6 weeks ago in announcing the snap general election. Corbyn by polling 38% of the vote has proved he is credible and all of the above arguments now come into play – an extremely interesting 11 days of real politics ahead!

 

The ONLY way to solve the ‘housing crisis’ is in Labour’s 2017 manifesto

There is only one way to solve the UK ‘housing crisis’ and ten simple words in the Labour Party manifesto hit the nail on the head on page 63:

We will remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes…

Currently councils can borrow to build anything at all except housing and that is perverse and especially so when (a) we have a crisis of housing supply and (b) an even bigger crisis of housing affordability which have both been caused by (c) the ideological madness of councils not being allowed to borrow to build housing.

All party politics aside this is the ONLY way that the UK can solve its housing crisis and whether you believe the bigger crisis is under supply or affordability.

Every country needs to house its population that includes those able to afford to buy and those who cannot … and those who cannot afford is a hugely increasing number in the UK.

Home ownership peaked under Blair at 71% of the population in 2004 and today it is 64% a fall of over ten per cent and in a very short space of time.  That is the real political issue as fewer home owners mean less economic growth and mean a much higher percentage have to rent.

In 2004 only 29% rented and now it is 36% an increase of twenty four per cent in little over a decade … a decade that has seen councils unable to build, housing associations have ever reducing grant / subsidy and led to the chronically insecure private rented sector taking up the demand … and a much greater reduced chance of ever getting on the ‘housing ladder’ for you, your children and your children’s children.

The market has failed. The ideology of leaving housing to the market has failed and you, your children and your children’s children have been failed by the perverse and wholly ideological decision not to allow local councils to borrow to build housing – a policy in place for over 30 years and a failure of all governments in that time.

There have been short-term benefits for those who are home-owners with ever increasing assets even after the banking crisis yet now the equity built up in their house by the bank of mum and dad is not enough.

What the decision to allow councils to borrow to build means is very simple, it means housing will be built for actual housing need and not for housing profit of the private housebuilders and housing associations.  HA’s are not public bodies, they have no public duties and they have no compulsion at all to build for actual housing need – and that housing need has increased by 24% since 2004 with the fall in home ownership rates.

It is said that 80% of housing associations do not build at all and the 20% that do managed just 40,000 houses last year, a record breaking year … yet only 5000 or so of them were for social rent – a record low post-war number of HA’s building for social rent (aka actual housing need) which says (a) what HA’s want to build is determined by their bottom line and not for their claimed social purpose; and more importantly (b) HAs do NOT have the capacity to build the UK out of its under supply crisis despite the deluded sophistry of the National Housing Federation umbrella body.

Councils used to build 200,000+ houses per year and they can and will easily scale up to that number again because it is in their best financial interest to do so and that includes Conservative run local councils too and this is an apolitical point!  It is what the UK needs to do to solve the housing crisis whoever is in power at central and local government.

The real political perversity is that this Corbyn council house building plan is shared by the Daily Telegraph and this plan is the exact same principle of the Militant Liverpool Labour council of the mid 1980’s!  In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Labour and Conservative governments used to fight over who had built the most council housing too – and the idea has never failed or never not been the right policy, it merely fell out of political ideological fashion with BOTH the major parties.

In economic apolitical terms it is undoubtedly the best and most cost-effective housing policy for the UK AND it will lead to more home ownership too as the less you spend on rent the more you can save more quickly for a deposit – a simple undeniable fact along with the easier take up of employment that are just two obvious points we have all (conveniently?) forgotten.

Yes, some council housing was appalling in its architecture and it has to be said in its management and operation, yet still much better than the worst of today’s private rented sector …. and …. many lessons have been learned so that many of the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

If Labour do not win the election the Tories should adopt this policy as it will work and you, your children and your children’s children will have a real chance of housing and getting on.  It is the ONLY way to solve the housing crisis.

labman2017council housing

The ONLY way to solve the ‘housing crisis’ is in Labour’s 2017 manifesto

There is only one way to solve the UK ‘housing crisis’ and ten simple words in the Labour Party manifesto hit the nail on the head on page 63:

We will remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes…

Currently councils can borrow to build anything at all except housing and that is perverse and especially so when (a) we have a crisis of housing supply and (b) an even bigger crisis of housing affordability which have both been caused by (c) the ideological madness of councils not being allowed to borrow to build housing.

All party politics aside this is the ONLY way that the UK can solve its housing crisis and whether you believe the bigger crisis is under supply or affordability.

Every country needs to house its population that includes those able to afford to buy and those who cannot … and those who cannot afford is a hugely increasing number in the UK.

Home ownership peaked under Blair at 71% of the population in 2004 and today it is 64% a fall of over ten per cent and in a very short space of time.  That is the real political issue as fewer home owners mean less economic growth and mean a much higher percentage have to rent.

In 2004 only 29% rented and now it is 36% an increase of twenty four per cent in little over a decade … a decade that has seen councils unable to build, housing associations have ever reducing grant / subsidy and led to the chronically insecure private rented sector taking up the demand … and a much greater reduced chance of ever getting on the ‘housing ladder’ for you, your children and your children’s children.

The market has failed. The ideology of leaving housing to the market has failed and you, your children and your children’s children have been failed by the perverse and wholly ideological decision not to allow local councils to borrow to build housing – a policy in place for over 30 years and a failure of all governments in that time.

There have been short-term benefits for those who are home-owners with ever increasing assets even after the banking crisis yet now the equity built up in their house by the bank of mum and dad is not enough.

What the decision to allow councils to borrow to build means is very simple, it means housing will be built for actual housing need and not for housing profit of the private housebuilders and housing associations.  HA’s are not public bodies, they have no public duties and they have no compulsion at all to build for actual housing need – and that housing need has increased by 24% since 2004 with the fall in home ownership rates.

It is said that 80% of housing associations do not build at all and the 20% that do managed just 40,000 houses last year, a record breaking year … yet only 5000 or so of them were for social rent – a record low post-war number of HA’s building for social rent (aka actual housing need) which says (a) what HA’s want to build is determined by their bottom line and not for their claimed social purpose; and more importantly (b) HAs do NOT have the capacity to build the UK out of its under supply crisis despite the deluded sophistry of the National Housing Federation umbrella body.

Councils used to build 200,000+ houses per year and they can and will easily scale up to that number again because it is in their best financial interest to do so and that includes Conservative run local councils too and this is an apolitical point!  It is what the UK needs to do to solve the housing crisis whoever is in power at central and local government.

The real political perversity is that this Corbyn council house building plan is shared by the Daily Telegraph and this plan is the exact same principle of the Militant Liverpool Labour council of the mid 1980’s!  In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Labour and Conservative governments used to fight over who had built the most council housing too – and the idea has never failed or never not been the right policy, it merely fell out of political ideological fashion with BOTH the major parties.

In economic apolitical terms it is undoubtedly the best and most cost-effective housing policy for the UK AND it will lead to more home ownership too as the less you spend on rent the more you can save more quickly for a deposit – a simple undeniable fact along with the easier take up of employment that are just two obvious points we have all (conveniently?) forgotten.

Yes, some council housing was appalling in its architecture and it has to be said in its management and operation, yet still much better than the worst of today’s private rented sector …. and …. many lessons have been learned so that many of the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

If Labour do not win the election the Tories should adopt this policy as it will work and you, your children and your children’s children will have a real chance of housing and getting on.  It is the ONLY way to solve the housing crisis.

labman2017council housing

BBC’s premeditated election bias

Yesterday saw the county council elections and ALL day today the BBC with their raft of the usual suspects has been analysing the results and speculating on how they will be replicated in the General Election in five week time.

Oh dear!

The BBC like all the media is expecting (some would say hoping for) the Tory landslide that the BBC and the rest of the media have been telling us will happen.  So given that context surely the BBC with all their ‘experts’ should have looked at the county council elections the last time there was a General Election landslide – the Blair election of 1997 – which also had the county council election on the very same day.

The premise of the BBC political analysis all day has been that the county council elections of yesterday give strong pointers to the General Election and so you would think that in 1997 with the Labour landslide in the Genera Election that the county councils were a landslide to Labour right?

Oh dear!

Yes the 1997 county council elections saw a huge increase for the Conservatives and they were the main party in county councils in the 1997 election despite the landslide – yes on the very same day – for Labour in the 1997 General Election.

Here are the figures – and ye Gods! – we also find the Conservatives with exactly the same percentage of the vote at 38% as they got yesterday too!

1997countycouncil elections

You’d think that someone at the BBC … with all their highly paid experts in political pundits, commentators, contracted academic professors and the like – just one of them I mean would have said, hang on a second, this analysis premise  and line we are running all day on what happens in county council elections is replicated in General Elections is utter nonsense and the analysis of a three year-old!  Yet clearly not and despite the fact that many counts were not taken last night and only began today giving the BBC so much more time in which to make this puerile and flawed analysis and correlation.

You also would have thought that the Labour Party would use the exact same argument to say that any notion of a correlation is fundamentally flawed, yet no Labour Party member has as yet which is surprising.

So, in summary, if anyone can give another argument as to all this shows is premeditated BBC bias (and by Sky who have also been running the same puerile analysis) then please let me know.

Failure of Supported Housing Providers

Social Housing leaders have failed to promote and ‘sell’ the many huge benefits it can provide and have failed for decades in general needs social housing; now they failed in the supporting housing arena and failed spectacularly so.

Before I progress that argument let me say that such a criticism will not go done well with many in the sector and also say a great many people in the sector have fought relentlessly for supported housing in particular.  Yet they have fought the wrong battle and despite the great deal of merit some in the supported housing deserve they have failed and of that there can be no doubt however unpalatable it may read.

The perceived problem

The current government have proposed the LHA Maxima cap policy which limits the amount of housing benefit paid towards rents in specialist supported housing to the amount paid to non specialist general needs housing benefit (LHA) in the private rented sector.  The Conservative government claim – thoroughly ridiculously and perversely – that this is fair and equitable.  It is not for many reasons.

Housing Benefit regulation has correctly acknowledged since at least 1987 that the costs of supported housing – that is only provided and paid for through Housing Benefit in the social rented sector – is a much higher cost than general needs housing whether in the social rented sector or the private rented sector. HB regulations have specified what can and cannot be paid for through HB to reflect this and too many examples exist such as higher security costs in a refuge yet each and every claimed expenditure item is thoroughly scrutinised on the basis of being “reasonable, realistic and justifiable” before they are paid for in HB.

In very short, there is no lack of scrutiny as to the costs claimed and there is no issue with supported housing HB costs being paid out as being in any way cost-ineffective.

Six years ago some bean counting policy wonk came up with the extremely superficial idea of limiting HB paid in supported housing to the maximum payable for general needs housing in the private rented sector.  The two are as different as chalk and cheese which the HB regulations have correctly recognised for thirty years and the courts have upheld for thirty years as well.  The HB payments made to cover the costs of providing supported housing in all its forms have been scrutinised to death!¬

Six years ago the then Tory-led coalition put out a consultation paper limiting HB to the maximum LHA – the LHA Maxima Cap policy – that was rightly rejected out of hand and the coalition government did not even issue a consultation response summary such was the condemnation of this policy and the scale of the challenge to it.  It was dropped like the hottest of hot potatoes and was the sole reason I started to blog under SPeye Joe which was Joe keeping an eye on SP or Supporting People.

Last year the same or another policy wonk decided to re-release this LHA Maxima cap policy – a dog with fleas / pig’s earhole / dog’s breakfast – and this policy was even worse then the 2011 original which at least had LHA Maxima plus £20 per week and LHA Maxima plus £40 per week as options.  The latest and current dog with fleas is LHA Maxima only.

Yet this 2016 reincarnation of the failed 2011 version of the policy which was an is worse than the original did NOT meet with serious challenge from the supported housing sector and while it had verbal indignation in droves, the supported housing sector chose NOT to cut it off at its knees and instead caved-in to highly spurious government claims of lack of scrutiny and cost-effectiveness and chose to offer an alternative called the Supported Housing Allowance or SHA.

Irrespective of the merits claimed for this SHA alternative, hat this represented was a cave-in and lack of challenge to the fact that the existing system of HB funding was recognised as necessary and had been scrutinised to death by local councils who pay it out and by the courts for thirty years.  The sector in cowardly resigned apathy did this by offering the alternative SHA funding mechanism and n not fighting FOR the existing HB funding system.

In short the so-called supported housing ‘sector’ providers the majority of whom are social landlords sold out the very people they claim to support in the well over 800,000 vulnerable tenants, residents and licencees.  They capitulated by choosing NOT to fight for the existing funding system which is de facto one of absolute right and entitlement through Housing Benefit.

The same supported housing providers seek to claim, erroneously, that the SHA alternative they proposed is also a rights-based funding mechanism when it simply is not.  The government sought to change the existing funding mechanism precisely BECAUSE it is rights-based and therefore cannot be capped; thus even if I am being harsh on the SHA model which I am not, the government would never accept it anyway as it fails to cap the overall Housing Benefit bill for supported housing rents. So when the government reject this SHA alternative they have already won the argument as the ‘sector’ presupposes and agrees with the nonsensical premise that the existing system that has survived 30 years is failing!

Capitulation

The Conservative government presented the LHA Maxima Cap policy (2016 version) a fait accompli – this is what we are going to do.  Instead of realising this was a negotiation the ‘sector’ caved-in and presented an alternative in the SHA.  Why they felt the need to do this is bizarre and bizarre even if the previous version in 2011 had not been rejected out of hand.

The policy is bankrupt, economically, socially, morally and especially electorally if the sector had focused on what it means to many extremely politically sensitive client groups.  It should have seen the sector unite and tell the government where to get off – diplomatically of course yet very very forcefully.  Yet the sector chose to see this as either a battle they could no win, which is perverse given its 2011 rejection, or one they chose not to challenge for other reasons, which is a high-risk strategy at all times.

Support providers have many years of regret with what happens in a commissioning model that the LHA Maxima Cap proposes as local council upon local council has taken away formerly ring-fenced funding in the Supporting People programme that will doubtless happen again with the LHA Maxima commissioning model and it is only a question of when and not if.

Even if that commissioning model is compelled to keep the ring fence it is still a dangerous model that can only work in the bet interests of the commissioner and not the vulnerable tenant in need of support.  If we (the LA commissioner) commissions Service A because it saves the LA more than Service B, then Service A gets commissioned – end of!  If that saving is in reduced temporary homeless cost or to redundancy cost of a councils in-house service then it will be commissioned out of LA cost saving and NOT out of support need.

The existing system is (largely) based on support need and is support driven by virtue of being fully rights based and so any new system whether LHA Maxima or SHA or the next alternative from a puff of fairy dust which is not fully tenant rights based will not meet support need and will drive up care cost to the public purse because by definition it is less cost-effective than the existing one.

Local authorities are smiling Cheshire Cat grins as they know, regardless of political control, that they will get this initially ring-fenced funding and they become in control of what support services gets commissioned or not – and this time much greater control with the LHA maxima element as this does not contain the ‘constraints’ that the SP Grant Conditions placed on them to remodel and decommission existing services.  The lightest of light touch regulation in the LHA Maxima Cap plan has bought the silence of the local authority providers to this dog’s breakfast of a policy!

The SP Grant Conditions meant that I very successfully spent the majority of 2003 to 2012 ensuring the £93 million per year of SP funding I achieved for supported housing providers on a well conceived and sustainable basis was retained by them when local councils sought to snaffle the money back to largely pay for other LA budget deficits.  The removal of the SP ring fence from 2009 by the incomparably stupid ODPM headed by John Prescott made that much more difficult if not impossible and led to many service closure and many thousands of vulnerable people in need of supported housing not getting it or that support.  That stupid decision is also a catalyst and key driver of the social care funding crisis we have today as it removed the critical preventative and preventative cost agenda and role that support plays to care.

The need for support and supported housing is far greater than anyone imagines as the last 4 years or so I have spent largely working with general needs tenants fighting the austerity of the bedroom tax, benefit cap and so on.  The level of support need among general needs housing is incredulous yet not seen or catered for and much more than anecdotal if you stop and think about it.

Supported housing residents are largely exempt from the bedroom tax YET even the DWP admits that 63% of all bedroom-taxed households include a disability!  This means that some 265,000 general needs households of working age have de facto support needs yet are receiving no support.  Yet according to the recent joint report of DCLG and DWP all party working committees there are only 225,000 or so working age households getting support in the UK!

The bedroom tax alone sees more working age support needs just for disability than the entirety of the working age population in supported housing!!

As the rapidly increasing frequency and severity of the so-called ‘welfare reforms’ come online such as reduced benefit cap, LHA Maxima Cap and Universal Credit with direct and monthly payments and increasing conditionality and sanctions (and SAR and banning of HB for under 22s and blah blah blah) and the fact the Family Resources Survey revealed a 22% increase in disability in just the last two years … all come into play, the need for support and supported housing provision is going to rocket!

This requires a massive increase in support and supported housing provision at the same time that the vulnerable persons rights to support is taken away with the massive HB cut of the LHA maxima policy.

This, in turn, means greater demand on LHA cap commissioning budgets, greater care needs presenting much more quickly and greater overall cost to the public purse and longer NHS waiting times and greater cost there and to the police and criminal justice system too!

All of this foreseeable madness and increased demand and cost also make the sectors proposal of the SHA and choosing NOT to fight for the existing system that would much better provide an act of the greatest folly in business terms and in moral or social purpose terms unforgivably stupid and downright offensive.

Abandoning social purpose in general needs housing is bad enough, doing so for supported housing is treachery and will come back to haunt the so-called sector.