There is a chill wind out there……

I spent yesterday morning at an interesting event looking at Sheltered Housing, and hearing once again about the critical connections between health, housing and social care.

I focussed on the challenges of integration in my last blog, but it does no harm to repeat the seismic shifts required to make this approach work, and indeed the coordination required amongst those in the housing sector to come together and cement our offer.

There was then an opportunity to hear about the recent launch of HAPPI 2 – a guide to the implementation of the HAPPI report – which looked at the practical changes and approaches that developers need to take when thinking about new build or retrofit of older peoples housing. The vision of HAPPI remains strong – the implementation of it across the country – not so strong – and is it with this in mind that the HAPPI framework is now underpinning the new bidding guidance for the Specialist Housing Funding from DH announced at the recent ADASS conference. Guidance and details of the fund can be found here.

It was then my turn to speak– with a look at how sheltered tenants will be impacted by the changes in welfare reform (Happy to supply copies of the presentation!). Clearly the audience that was there did not need to be reminded of the fact that a significant proportion of tenants in sheltered are of working age – and therefore will be very much a part of the move to Universal Credit, Social Housing Size Criteria and other benefit reforms.

I reminded people of the need to support tenants to understand the shift to ‘digital by default’, the potential to be receiving council tax bills for the first time (depending on their authorities localised approach to Council Tax Reduction) and to support their staff in understanding the changes. Whilst this was all going on, I was very aware that the Chancellor was launching into his Autumn statement and would be making changes that would have a significant impact – particularly on those working age tenants in sheltered accommodation.

The Autumn Statement (full transcript of statement) was given and the headlines are out there – and we now know that one of the main impacts on our sector is on the real reduction in the value of benefits. The pegging of benefit increases to 1% per year for three years from 2013, means that year on year, tenants and service users will experience a reduction in buying power – whilst vital costs of food, energy, travel accelerate often over and above the inflationary rate.

In addition, the capping of Local Housing Allowance increases at 1% will have an impact on the ability of tenants to find suitable private sector accommodation in the future, as private landlords see reductions in their return on renting properties to benefit recipients.

I wondered whether others agree that the repeated stereotypes of people on benefits are  wearing thin? The misuse of  ‘fairness’ as a justification for these changes ringing more and more hollow? When George Osborne justifies changes by drawing on analogies such as “…..fairness is also about being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees their neighbour still asleep, living a life on their benefits” – is further reinforcement of his ‘Strivers and Scivers’ divide – surely an unhelpful silo mentality in contrast to the other well worn adage of ‘we’re all in this together’. For statistics that refute this proposition about the community who receive benefits – it would be very useful to  review the recent report by Joseph Rowntree Foundation Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion.

More bad news was delivered in relation to local government funding. Whilst departmental funding was squeezed across the board by 1% in 2013 and 2% in 2014 – Local Authorities were taken out of the 2013 squeeze (although requiring them to continue the freeze on council tax for another year) but firmly located in the 2% squeeze on funding promised for 2014-15. All of which news will send shivers down the spines of supported housing and social care commissioners and providers.

It is hard to find many reasons to be cheerful – but there are some parts of the autumn statement that the sector have responded to with tepid optimism. Local Enterprise Partnerships are to get more money – and it seems likely that there will be more opportunities for pooled budgeting which the LEP will have access to. Details of all the LEPs can be found here and if not already tied into an understanding of their strategic plans for the local community – it will become ever more important to do so.

Once again Osborne restated his commitment to protect Health funding and there has been substantial in roads made into the connection between Health and Housing.  There is more money to go on science and technology – and it will be interesting to see whether the priorities for that spend reflect on technological innovations that will impact the sector around assistive living. Our annual policy conference in February will be picking up on this theme – and we are putting the final touches to the agenda at this moment.

Finally – news on the horizon – Osborne announced in his Autumn statement that there would be a spending review announced in the first half of next year – and this will look to set departmental spending from 2015-16 onwards. How that review will be carried out is not yet clear, but it will be important for organisations like Sitra and our partners to be working with central government to understand evidence requirements and critical that the work on data continues apace.






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