Councils plan ‘disproportionate’ funding cuts for services supporting vulnerable people
Councils are planning to defy ministers by pushing ahead with plans to cut funding for services supporting vulnerable people by far more than the government has recommended, according to a survey of over 130 providers in England.
Housing associations, charities and community groups fear town halls will raid funds intended to support vital services for groups like the elderly, homeless and disabled, in order to protect other spending priorities, according to the National Housing Federation.
The survey reveals 73% of providers have been warned by their local authority to expect disproportionate funding cuts to services which provide support, housing and advice to some of the most vulnerable people in their community, such as women fleeing domestic violence and people with mental health problems.
In some circumstances whole services face closure as cash strapped town halls look to make massive savings over the next four years by disproportionately cutting from one budget to fund another.
In the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced that money allocated nationally to Supporting People – which funds services for over a million vulnerable people– would be broadly maintained, with a 12% real terms cut over four years.
No legal duty
However the money is no longer ring fenced and councils can spend it on whatever they want to as it rolled into their general grant from central government. 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.
Nottinghamshire council is warning of a 67% cut over the next four years, Somerset council has already confirmed an 18% cut next year. Nottingham City Council has proposed a 43% cut from April this year. Hartlepool Council have been consulting on a cut in funding of 30% from April this year. Cornwall Council has meanwhile confirmed it will reduce its funding by 40% over the next three years.
Ministers have however warned councils about excessive cuts to Supporting People. Questioned at a DCLG select committee, Housing Minister Grant Shapps said ‘the idea that local authorities should use Supporting People as their front line for reductions is completely against everything that we would expect to see.
And in a letter to local authorities on 22 December from the Department of Communities and Local Government stated: ‘Ministers do not, however, expect authorities to respond to reductions in their budgets by passing on disproportionate cuts to other service providers.
A survey of 136 housing organisations and charities which provide services for some of the most vulnerable people in their community however revealed a vast majority of councils had already indicated cuts greater than 12%. It found:
The Federation has called on local authorities to be transparent and account for exactly what they will be spending their Supporting People funding on. It warned the long-term financial costs would also outweigh the short-term savings from cutting back on services – as demands on the NHS, police forces and the courts surge as a result.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: ‘Local authorities are facing significant cuts to their budgets and face the inevitable task of deciding where savings can be made.
But what we are beginning to see is that services which provide a lifeline to thousands of vulnerable people are being hit disproportionately by councils – with the first to declare their hands indicating they intend to cut back their funding by up to 67%.
Raiding these budgets to pay for other spending priorities runs contrary to what ministers want, what the public wants and most importantly what the vulnerable who rely upon them want to see happen.
Councils must now be completely transparent with their local communities and account for where they plan to spend their Supporting People cash.