It pays off for Government to listen to the sector

As social care needs increase, the need to keep dialogue open between the sector and the government is important, writes Carol Matthews.

Starts At Home Day (NHF’s annual spotlight on how supported housing transforms lives) sets the scene for my reflections on the sector’s achievement in securing a sustainable future for our customers. A recent study has suggested the number of people in the UK aged 85 or older who require round-the-clock care will almost double over the next 20 years, which only highlights the explosion in social care needs and the importance of this accomplishment.

Here at Riverside we awaited the government’s long-overdue announcement on the future of supported housing funding with baited breath. And we were more than relieved to see all the hard lobbying, alongside our sector peers, had paid off – not only for the business side of things, but for all our customers who rely on these services. The fact that housing costs will continue to be met through Housing Benefit is fantastic and we are delighted the government has not only listened to the sector but were willing to work alongside us to ensure these vital services have a workable funding model.

Most crucially, the funding announcement brings an end to the uncertainty we’ve worked under since the end of 2015, with the original proposal to cap supported housing rents at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels. Providers have finally been given the necessary assurance to grow supply, with many schemes – previously on hold – now being unlocked, as well as the confidence to re-invest to meet customer need, now and into the future.

Riverside, along with St Mungo’s, YMCA and The Salvation Army, has commissioned research looking at challenges for our supported housing customers claiming Universal Credit (UC) and how these can be overcome. We have urged the DWP to look at the report’s recommendations, which we hope will help alleviate some of the uncertainty faced by our customers in light of full-scale UC rollout and the prospect of moving existing benefit claimants onto UC.

In Riverside’s recent response to the Social Security Advisory Committee consultation on such proposals as part of ‘managed migration’, we put forward four key points; the important of implementing migration on a geographical basis; sufficient advance notification of UC; data sharing and the systematic identification of vulnerable customers, and; more time given for claims to be made and the necessary support to be implemented.

The negative impact of UC is still being seen by our customers each day. Only a few weeks ago I was on a whistle-stop tour of Cumbria with our brand new partner, Impact, and I was being told stories by Foyer colleagues of our teams having to feed customers through charitable donations and food banks whilst they were awaiting UC claims to be resolved. In Carlisle, I saw charitable donation bags with chocolate, toiletries and some basic food products at a Young Persons scheme. In this day and age, this simply should not be happening.

We currently await the next big government Green Paper – this one focusing on social care funding – scheduled for publication in the autumn (although we shall see when it actually materialises if the Social Housing Green Paper is anything to go by!). Therefore it is essential we keep the dialogue between government and our sector open and continue championing the work we do to transform lives and reviltalise neighbourhoods.

As published in Inside Housing on 4 October 2018.