Stephen Gilbert writes… “Supporting People Funding” – for the most vulnerable in our society

We are all just a few steps from being homeless. We know that we will get older. Some of us may end up in abusive relationships. All of these things can happen through no fault of our own.

When this happens, surely we deserve a chance to turn our lives around. That is what Supporting People funding has been there for. It provides for local services, delivered by housing providers and community groups, supporting some of our most vulnerable people. It’s helped over one million people live more independently in their homes, and many thousands to recover from drug or alcohol dependency or to find a safe space away from violent partners.

But across the country, the services that help tackle homelessness or drug or alcohol addiction are being hit by sweeping Council-led cuts, despite the funding being mostly protected by central Government.

So what’s going on? Some people will simply blame the fact that ring-fencing of this funding was removed in 2009, with Supporting People funding now rolled into the general formula grant given to councils. In my view that’s too easy. In the same way that ‘Supporting People’ helps give people their independence, it is right that the Government’s localism agenda takes Whitehall out of the Town Hall.

What’s really alarming is, judging from my post-bag, it seems the community is more likely to campaign against a change in swimming hours at the local pool or to protest about forest management than it is to campaign for services for the most vulnerable. I got hundreds of letters on the future of the management of the national forest and less than six when Cornwall Council slashed these services by 40%.

To highlight the threat these cuts posed, I recently joined with dozens of other people sleeping rough overnight outside Cornwall Council’s offices. These are cuts that will hurt people who are already hurting and that are a false economy: we know the tax-payer will pay out more for later intervention through the police and courts or the NHS.

Yet here we are. Many councils are ducking the tough options, reforming back-office support or top-heavy management, and are taking an axe to services for people who are less able to speak up for themselves.

The Times has today published a letter, coordinated by the National Housing Federation, calling on councils to protect these vital services. 551 councillors, from many parties and from around England have added their name, including 145 Liberal Democrat colleagues.

The council leaders, leaders of oppositions, cabinet members and backbenchers end with a plea to fellow councillors: ‘to consider the impact that cuts to Supporting People would have in their wards, and to ask local councils to protect these vital services’. I ask you to do the same too.

Times are, of course, tough. We need to tackle the deficit. Councils do face difficult choices. But surely it’s at this time of hardship that we must remember we should judge ourselves on how we look after the most vulnerable in our community and not necessarily just the most vocal. I hope Liberal Democrats everywhere will help give a voice for those who can’t speak out for themselves.

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7 Comments

  • Daniel Farr 29th Mar '11 - 3:23pm

    What about the Tory led council of Westminster who are planning to fine people who sleep rough in their borough and ban charities who provide soup kitchens to those people?

  • alex, you are absolutely right. SP was always in danger the moment the coalition took the ringfence off. I wrote to Grant Shapps saying thet there is a way out. And that was to line SP up with the forthcoming Public Health regime coming into Local Government and ringfence it temporarily, like drugs and alcohol money. It could have happened but didnt. The result is that local authorities have had to choose between things that must be done by law, and things, like SP, that they would like to do. No contest.

    Completely predictable. It could have been easily avoided. But I am told that Tory ministers, when warned that it would lead to an increase in homelessness said “so what”. The amazing thing is that lib dems went along with them – in central governemtn and in local government.

    Shapps and Pickles were left resorting to a letter to the Telegraph urging local authorities not to disinvest from SP.

    If they cared so much. and if Lib dems cared, they would have protected it. And neither party did.. Its too late for articles on lib dem voice. The coalition has blown the SP programme in many many areas of the country and they did it through negligence .

  • Stephen, I see you say that many councils are ducking the tough options – just to draw your attention to a new survey by the LGA (which I shall send to you and of course I should declare an interest as I work for the Lib Dem Group at the LGA), which found that:

    – Nine out of 10 councils have already reduced the cost of senior officers, either through cutting numbers or pay, and eight out of 10 have cut middle-management costs.

    – The survey of council finance directors, carried out by the Local Government Association, found 58% of local authorities were planning to make proportionally greater savings in 2011/12 through central services, such as administration, human resources, finance and IT.

    This is not to defend every cut to supporting people, but to highlight that in fact many councils are trying their best to do the right thing. But with a very tough financial settlement from central government, it is a fact of life that all areas of council spending will face pressure.

  • Old Codger Chris 30th Mar '11 - 9:26pm

    With a tough financial settlement, unless ring-fencing is restored Councils simply will not (or cannot) spend money on homelessness or related issues. Any spare money they might have will be spent on services which directly and instantly affect the articulate.

  • patrick murray 31st Mar '11 - 9:50am

    i agree with alex, and indeed rob.

    alan, fwiw, it was the labour gvt that removed the ringfence on sp.

  • Great work Stephen – I can’t get over the fact that you made it to work the next day!

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