Hugh Russell cautions against a loss of support against homelessness in Wales.
Just over a year ago, as new legislation came into force, Wales took its place as one of the world’s leaders in progressively tackling that most extreme form of social breakdown, homelessness. Local authorities across Wales, working with their housing association partners, introduced a preventative approach to supporting those threatened by homelessness and initial results show that the new approach is reaping positive results. The effectiveness of this approach is testament to ambitious leadership from the Welsh Government in first signing up to the new approach and then funding it appropriately.
Wales’ admirable progress on homelessness is underpinned by the presence of the Supporting People (SP) programme along with the vital Homelessness Protection Fund.
The £124 million SP programme funds housing-related support and contributes hugely to the prevention of homelessness. In 2013/14 this fund was cut by £10 million, and then protected in the budget in 2014/15. As the current Welsh Government wrangles over how to yet again balance the books, CHC and our partners in Cymorth Cymru have put our shoulders to the wheel with the ‘Let’s Keep On Supporting People’ campaign to convince Welsh Government to restore the fund to its original level. The programme funds life-changing support, and has been proven to reduce reliance on health services.
Since 2004 the SP programme has helped around three quarters of a million people turn their lives around. While the Supporting People data linkage feasibility study* (2016) showed that SP interventions reduce use of A&E and GP surgeries over time. This means fewer resources used, and greater availability of services for the general population
We can be rightly proud of Supporting People’s role in the prevention of homelessness; of the manner in which thousands of formerly vulnerable people have become independent and moved on, but beyond this, there will always be those for whom support can’t taper off, those with lifelong issues or whose condition will inevitably deteriorate as they age. Supporting People means that these people are cared for with dignity and compassion.
Tom Savery from Barry became homeless at the age of 16. He spent a lot of time sofa surfing and drinking.
“I had no future ahead of me or any hope really. I got to a point where I didn’t care. I became depressed and had zero confidence,” said Tom.
He dropped out of college and although he found work, he hated the “rubbish job” which barely paid enough for him to live on.
The turning point in his life came when he was referred to the SP funded Gwalia Barry Offenders project which supports young tenants who would struggle to cope without specialist help.
“The support I had gave me back my confidence. I am now back in college, have a roof over my head and am no longer drinking every day. I now have hope to go on and want to become a support worker after being inspired by the support workers who did so much to help me. Gwalia has totally changed my life around for the better,” he added.
With the draft budget announcement fast approaching, the rumour mill is already in full flow, with talk of flagship programmes coming under pressure. Nobody underestimates the financial challenge Welsh Government faces, but if they do not protect preventative budgets now, this challenge to fund public services from a restricted budget will only grow in future years.
Aside from the cut in 2013/14, the Welsh Government has consistently backed Supporting People. By contrast, in England, Supporting People’s protective ring-fence was removed and local authorities used the fund to plug gaps elsewhere in their budgets. The results have been extremely damaging: Homeless Link found that housing-related support budgets were cut by up to 85% in some English authorities and that service quality, inevitably, deteriorated. Ultimately, vulnerable people like Tom lose out. We cannot allow the same to happen in Wales.