500 councillors back call to protect Supporting People services

More than 500 councillors have signed a letter urging town halls in England to avoid making disproportionate cuts to services supporting some of the most vulnerable people in their communities.

The letter – which has won cross-party support – warns that thousands of homeless people, women fleeing domestic violence and pensioners could be forced to fend for themselves as some local authorities push through cuts of more than 50%.

The list of councillors signing the letter includes three council leaders, 54 leaders of opposition party groupings and 61 members of council cabinets.

In the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced that money allocated nationally to Supporting People (SP) – which funds services for over a million vulnerable people – would be broadly maintained, with a 12% real terms cut over four years.

However, the money is no longer ring fenced and has been rolled into the general grant from central government, with local authorities facing reductions in revenue funding of 28% over the next four years. The letter, written by the National Housing Federation, has been signed by 551 councillors and warns local authorities against making disproportionate cuts to the SP services.

A total of 255 Labour, 145 Liberal Democrat and 65 Tory councillors signed the letter – along with 86 from smaller parties and independents.

There is no legal duty to support many of the groups traditionally funded by Supporting People – despite their vulnerability. These include some single homeless people, many older people and those with drug and alcohol addictions.

A recent survey by the National Housing Federation revealed 73% of providers were expecting considerable cuts to services. 

In some circumstances whole services face closure as cash strapped town halls look to make massive savings over the next four years and are faced with difficult choices over spending priorities.

Hull council is cutting its funding to services by 53% and Hartlepool is cutting its funding by 30%.

Ministers have shown concern about cuts to Supporting People. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles suggested the Government could legislate to stop councils pushing through excessive cuts to voluntary groups.

The Federation said that investment in preventative support through housing associations leads to better outcomes for service-users, and savings to health and social services budgets, through the avoidance of hospital admissions, reduced costs of crime, lower demands on emergency services, and reduced numbers of children being taken into care.

Federation chief executive David Orr said: “Every local authority is under enormous pressure to reduce spending – local areas have been handed a tough funding settlement but to implement cuts over and above the level passed on by central government is wrong and will simply end up hitting some of the most vulnerable in society.

“The fact that so many councillors from across the political spectrum have signed this letter shows just how much concern there is over the future of local services for the vulnerable.

“No one wants to see the homeless, victims of domestic violence and the frail abandoned and forced to fend for themselves. But that’s exactly what will happen in many parts of the country where local authorities are pushing ahead with massive cuts to services which provide a lifeline to the vulnerable.

“Councils should make every conceivable effort to avoid making disproportionate cuts, and protect essential local services.”

Here is the text of the letter in full:

Dear Sir

Supporting People services provide vital housing related support to over a million of the most vulnerable in society – including older people, victims of domestic violence, and people experiencing or at risk of homelessness – to help them live more independently in their own homes.

Despite the Government emphasising the importance of protecting key frontline services at the time of the spending review, this funding has suffered severe cuts as councils face substantial pressure to reduce costs.

Some local authorities have already announced that their Supporting People budgets will be slashed by up to 50%, cutting a crucial thread of support for many who do not have access to other sources of help.

Amongst the services being put under threat are outreach schemes for young homeless people, women’s refuges, money and debt advice, and home-based support for pensioners.

What’s more, taking such measures does not make financial sense. Without early identification and support, vulnerable individuals will reach crisis point as their needs escalate and become more severe, leading to greater demand on acute health services, the criminal justice system and carers.

In December 2010, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles himself told the CLG select committee that: ‘Most sensible local authorities will come to the conclusion that £1 spent on Supporting People will probably save them £5 or £6 further down the line’.

We understand the difficult spending situation local councils are presently facing. We are extremely concerned, however, about the effects of losing these services, which would be a body blow for many of society’s most vulnerable.

We therefore join with the National Housing Federation to make a plea to fellow councillors to consider the impact that Supporting People cuts would have in their own wards, and to ask local councils to protect these vital services.

Signed by 551 local councillors