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.