'Not Safe as Houses' first appeared in Mental Health Today in June 2011. To subscribe to the magazine click here.


Cuts to the Supporting People grant are impacting on service users in supported accommodation and leaving them facing an uncertain future. Richard Shrubb reports.

For many mental health service users, moving into supported accommodation is an important step in their recovery, and Supporting People has helped numerous people to do this.

Indeed, from a personal perspective, after diagnosis, shared housing with support was the best thing to happen to me. But cuts in the Supporting People budget are now putting this under threat for many service users.

The Supporting People grant was formalised in 2002 by the previous Labour government. It was designed to help vulnerable people who need housing-related support to live independently in the community.

It offers support such as advocacy, developing life skills and in applying for benefits. It helps about 36,000 people with mental health problems at any one time, according to government figures.

Supporting People was given to local authorities as a block grant. It recognised that a stable home environment would save costs across the board to statutory services.

In October 2010 the government's comprehensive spending review cut the Supporting People grant, but the previous administration had already taken away the ring fence, allowing local authorities to spend the monies as they wished. This has resulted in cuts of up to 60% in expenditure on Supporting People in some areas, although it should be noted that in some areas spending on it has increased.

Nevertheless, in 2010 the Guardian reported that "more than 400,000 vulnerable people, including pensioners and victims of domestic violence, could lose their homes and see care entitlement scrapped".  The cuts weren't as big across the board as the newspaper predicted, though in some local authorities the cuts to expenditure were higher.

A 40% cut to a budget is cold, hard numbers. To the resident in a low-level support facility, a 40% cut could mean homelessness and uncertainty.  

Inconsistent cuts   

In regard to the overall cuts, Jake Eliot, policy officer at the National Housing Federation, which represents 1,200 independent not-for-profit housing associations in England, says; "The government says it [Supporting People cuts] works out at 12%. However, the national average is around 25%, since different local authorities receive different settlements.

The lack of a clear pattern suggests this is down to local priorities. The cuts in Supporting People grant money are not directly related to cuts in expenditure.

In December 2010, in a letter to local authority chief executives the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) stated that; "This funding has been rolled into formula grant and it is not possible to identify a particular amount for Supporting People (or any other purpose) within formula grant for any individual authority." A spokesperson from the DCLG defends this move: "It gives more power to local authorities, who know what their local needs are better than the centre." 

The result has been cataclysmic to recipients of Supporting People money in certain areas. For instance Cornwall County Council cut its expenditure on Supporting People by 40% while Nottinghamshire slashed it by 60%.   

Costs and benefits   

Indeed, these cuts could prove to be a false economy. In 2008 the DCLG commissioned a cost benefit analysis of Supporting People by consulting and professional services provider CapGemini. It found that the overall savings were roughly £2 for every £1 spent. The report said that: "net financial benefits from the Supporting People Programme is £2.77 billion per annum for the client groups considered (against an overall investment of £1.55 billion)."

With people with mental health issues the expenditure was £252 million and a saving of £487 million. Put simply, a service user with a stable, comfortable home is going to cost less overall due to non-statutory funding than they will without that support and in need of statutory services.

For instance, with a chaotic lifestyle associated with mental health issues, you may not pay your rent. You get made homeless as a result. With homelessness comes the need to be rehoused - if housing stock is available. The stress of homelessness can lead to drug addiction and the health and criminal justice problems associated with that. Someone who disengages with the mental health system and is in a high stress environment caused by homelessness could face sectioning or crisis team intervention - both cost the state more than if they were on a maintenance dose of medication and in a stable environment.  

Cuts concerns    

Nationally, a lot of organisations are worried about the cuts to Supporting People. A spokesperson for the Salvation Army says; "We are encouraging local authorities to balance the potential savings of any cuts with the extra costs that inevitably come when there is no tailored support for vulnerable client groups."  

Many people in the third sector have as great an impact on the welfare of mental health service users as statutory sector providers do. A psychiatrist will see you once a month - but a support worker whom you see three hours a week may end up mentoring you on to better things. These people, who do such a sterling job are facing uncertainties in their own employment.

With the cuts in place there is real risk of those it supported so well will regress and face the difficulties they were prevented from facing by Supporting People.


Post uploaded May 2011 by Richard Shrubb