Order. People must not walk in front of the person who is about to speak from the Dispatch Box.
I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Government to halt its current plans to cap, at the local housing allowance rate, help with housing costs for tenants of supported housing and to adopt instead a system which safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported housing, building on the recommendations of the First Joint Report of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Committees of Session 2016-17, Future of supported housing, HC 867.
This is the third Labour-led debate to confront the Government about their plans for supported housing. Perhaps it is a case of third time lucky, after the Prime Minister announced at Prime Minister’s questions this morning that the Government had backed off from capping help with supported housing costs at the local housing allowance rate. I am really glad, as I was in previous debates, to see so many Members from all parts of the House in the Chamber. The Prime Minister’s announcement was certainly welcome, and it was good to see Labour yet again winning the argument and making the running on Government policy.
I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) will also try to catch my right hon. Friend’s eye, but may I say that this was a unanimous proposal from two Select Committees—the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee —and that we are immensely pleased by the Government response? May I also take this opportunity to thank the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who was the lead member of the Work and Pensions Committee on the report and steered it to success?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He pre-empts some of the tributes I am going to pay to members of his Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee for the role they have played. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), who chaired the sittings on the very important joint report, which was published back in May.
After what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions earlier, we now know what the Government will not do, but we do not know what they will do. She said that the full announcement on future plans will be made on Tuesday, which is Hallowe’en, so the real question is: will this be trick or treat? Let us hope that this is third time lucky, and that the Government get the policy right this time. Ensuring that they did was the purpose of this debate, and even after the Prime Minister’s partial statement about the Government’s future plans, it remains the purpose of this debate.
Since November 2015, these plans have been like the sword of Damocles hanging over the homes of more than 700,000 frail and elderly people, young people leaving care, homeless people and those with dementia, mental illness and learning disabilities, as well as ex-service veterans and women fleeing domestic violence. We called this debate to give a voice to the continued urgent warnings of organisations such as Mencap, Age Concern, Centrepoint, the Salvation Army and Women’s Aid, and their concerns are still important as the Government finalise their plans. We called this debate to give Parliament a further opportunity to play its proper role in challenging and contributing to Government policy decisions, and our concerns are still important today. I trust that Ministers realise that Parliament, the housing sector and the Government must all play an essential part in sorting out a good, long-term system for supported housing for the future.
It is now nearly two years since the Chancellor revealed the plan for crude cuts to supported housing via the local housing allowance, it is over a year since the second version of the same plan was announced and there is now less than 18 months until any changes are set to start. The fears of many of the most vulnerable people in our society are very real, and the damage is already being done to vital specialist housing at a time when we already need at least 17,000 more such homes. The National Housing Federation reports that 85% of all building plans for new supported, sheltered or extra care housing have been halted over the past two years by the Government’s plans, and the Salvation Army says that the future of nine in 10 of its lifehouses for homeless people
“could be placed at risk.”
Our motion is designed to map a way forward. It calls on the Government, first, to halt its current plans—tick. That is what the Prime Minister announced today, and that is what the Government say they will do. It also calls on the Government to adopt instead a system that safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported housing, building on the recommendations of the joint report. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will signal their support for this approach during the debate, and then back the motion so that the will of Parliament is clear to the Government.
Together, the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee have done a really important service to the House and to the Government with their recent report. As I did earlier, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gloucester and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood. I look forward to their speeches and to the contributions of many hon. Members on both sides of the House who I have previously heard make a very persuasive case in calling on the Government to change their plans.
Let me turn instead to the heart of what is at stake and what still remains to be settled. The decision to drop the local housing allowance part of the plans is welcome, as we and the Select Committee have been clear about the Government’s error in this regard: it is too low and too variable to be the basis for supported housing. Will the Minister confirm today that any system for setting the level of support for those in supported housing will take full account of the costs? Will he confirm that the long-term funding levels will reflect the need for supported housing now and in the future? Will he guarantee that this policy will not be subject to the same ill-conceived, ill-judged decisions that we have seen over the past two years?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I agree with what he is saying. Does he agree that it was a particularly bizarre proposal to link funding to the local housing allowance when all the evidence shows that the cost of providing supported housing bears no relation whatever to the local housing allowance in a particular area?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right, and the Select Committees’ joint report was very clear about that.
Not only does the LHA bear little relation to the actual cost, when the cost of providing supported housing is pretty consistent wherever people are in the country, but an LHA-based approach—I am glad the Government have backed off—would cause particular problems in the north and the midlands, where the level of the LHA is much lower. In my own area, the South Yorkshire Housing Association says that the majority of the 1,000 places it provides in supported housing for the frail elderly, people with learning disabilities and the homeless are at risk, and describes that approach as “catastrophic”. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who knows such a great deal about welfare and benefits issues, is absolutely right.
My right hon. Friend is right that LHA would be completely unsuitable as a measure when rental costs and local housing markets are different, but is it not also the case that support costs vary between, say, sheltered housing at one end of the scale, where there might effectively just be a concierge service, and intensive support for ex-offenders or young people leaving care at the other?
That is true, and my hon. Friend is another of the House’s experts in this area. However, it is also the case that the housing benefit element of the costs of supported housing is designed to cover the housing costs and the management of housing costs, not the personal or support care costs.
Sometimes there is a confusion of those issues, but there should be no confusion for the Minister or the Government. In their own review in 2011, they listed the main reasons behind the costs of supported housing, where housing costs are often greater than those for general needs housing, saying that they included
“providing 24 hour housing management cover…providing more housing related support than in mainstream housing…organising more frequent repairs or refurbishment…providing more frequent mediating between tenants; and…providing extra CCTV and security services”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) is absolutely right, and I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing her speak, and that she too will welcome the Prime Minister’s partial announcement today.
For all of us in this House and, in particular, for the 700,000 people who currently have their homes in supported or sheltered housing, what the Government do instead matters a great deal. The devil is always in the detail and the funding. We are told that we will have to wait until next week for the detail, so let me turn to funding. The previous Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, now the deputy Prime Minister, said in a written ministerial statement in September 2016:
“we will bring in a new funding model which will ensure that the sector continues to be funded at current levels”.—[Official Report, 15 September 2016; Vol. 614, c. 37WS.]
That is simply not true. Total funding is only protected in year one, 2019-20. In year two, the sector faces a funding cliff edge with cuts of more than £500 million scheduled from April 2020. Government Members are right to look puzzled and a little alarmed. This has not been mentioned by Ministers and it is only evident in the small print of the Treasury’s fiscal reports. If Members look closely at the Treasury documents, as I have, they will see exactly what the Government plan.
On page 87 of the Budget 2016 Red Book, table 2.2 shows that the Government scored cuts to supported housing spending of £390 million in 2020-21. Following the pledge by the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to protect funding, page 12 of the Treasury’s 2016 autumn statement policy costings report reflected the commitment that overall funding for supported housing will be the same in 2019-20. However, it also confirmed that the amended policy announced by the right hon. Gentleman will
“generate additional savings in subsequent years as it is applied to the stock of supported housing tenants”.
In other words, that includes all current supported housing tenants and not just, as originally planned, the new ones. It shows additional cost cuts in 2020-21 of £160 million. Of course, that was updated in the Budget 2017 Red Book to £165 million. As well as the £390 million of cuts already announced, therefore, there will be a further cut in 2020-21, the second year of any new system.
The upshot is clear: Ministers have lined up costs for this programme. And they have lined up cuts of over half a billion pounds for year two of any new system they put in place, and further cuts after that. This is a funding cliff edge for existing supported housing and it entirely demolishes Ministers’ claims that they will protect supported housing. Will the Minister confirm today that the Government will make good this funding gap in full, so that the Prime Minister’s pledge this morning to the House in Prime Minister’s questions can be properly honoured?
In our motion, we say the Government should adopt a system that
“safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported housing.”
I want to set out four tests for the Government, which explain what we mean and how we will judge the detail of any plans for change. First, any new funding system must reflect the real cost of running supported housing. Secondly, any new funding system must be needs-led and be able to deal with increases in demand and need for supported housing, not subject to arbitrary cash limits such as departmental revenue spending. Thirdly, any funding model for the future must take account of the particular needs of very short-term accommodation, including homeless hostels and women’s refuges—this is one of the very serious failings with universal credit. Fourthly, and most importantly, any new funding system must not lead to the closure of any vitally needed supported housing.
This is a Government with no majority or mandate for domestic policy, because this is not covered by their deal with the Democratic Unionist party. It is Britain’s first minority Government for 38 years. As a Parliament, and as Members on all sides, we are still coming to terms with the much bigger role and much stronger say we have in Government policy decisions. The influence—[Interruption.] The Minister snorts, but the truth is that the influence of Members from all sides has had a very significant bearing on the policy on supported housing. It has been very significant so far, but there is a good deal more to do. I trust that Ministers will see this debate as another important contribution.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I will. I was just about to finish, but I will give way to my right hon. Friend.
Good timing on my part! I suggest to my right hon. Friend that a fifth test might be in order: would any new Government scheme enable more supported housing to be built, thereby releasing family housing for those in housing need, while also saving money on care home costs further down the line?
My right hon. Friend is right; perhaps that should be a fifth test. Certainly the first part of any fifth test must be whether, when the Government announce their plan, all the schemes halted in the last couple of years then get the go-ahead.
Finally, Parliament, the housing sector and the Government must together sort out a good long-term system for supported housing. I hope that our motion and this debate can be the basis for just that.
I thank the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) for securing this important debate and for allowing me to set out the Government’s position on supported housing.
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I think today he has somewhat overplayed his hand. I welcome his contribution, but in a sense he has come to the table rather late. I will set out our approach to this important issue and demonstrate how we have listened to the sector, to the people who need this important support and indeed to the joint Select Committee.
We are currently putting the finishing touches to our new funding model for supported housing, and as the Prime Minister said earlier, there will be an announcement next week. That is clearly within the timetable I have described in several debates now and which I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out to the Communities and Local Government Committee last week.
Our response to the consultation and the new funding model for supported housing follows our extensive and constructive engagement with providers and local authorities, the aim of which was to ensure we got the model right. I am sure that we all recognise the invaluable role that supported housing plays in our society. It helps some of our country’s most vulnerable people to maintain their independence and is a vital lifeline for hundreds and thousands of people up and down the country.
Supported housing is also an important investment that brings savings to other parts of the public sector, such as health and social care. In fact, we estimate that the annual net fiscal benefit of providing supported housing is probably upwards of £3.5 billion. It is essential, therefore, that we develop and deliver a sustainable long-term funding model for supported housing and that it works for providers, commissioners, taxpayers and, most importantly, vulnerable tenants.
Does the Minister accept, though, that during this prolonged period of uncertainty it has been hard for providers to bring forward new schemes? In my city, we have seen more and more people sleeping on the streets, and I am told that there is huge pressure on supported housing. Does he accept that during this period the situation has been made much more difficult?
We have provided 27,000 new supported housing units since 2011, and I shall say something in a moment about our ambition to develop new units. However, the hon. Gentleman is right in that, before making a long-term commitment, providers want to make sure that there is a long-term, sustainable source of funds.
I think it is important that we took time to organise our consultation and listen carefully to providers, to the sector as a whole and to local government. I believe that when our policy and our plans are announced next week, it will be clear that we also listened to the Select Committees, which did a very positive job in respect of the policy that the Government are so keen to get right.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) said was quite right. I cannot understand why the Minister wants us to be pleased that the Government have listened, given that they had more than two years in which to do that listening, and in the meantime our supported housing units have suffered, homelessness has increased, and women in refuges have been caused great uncertainty because the people who run those refuges have not been able to plan properly. Why has it taken so long?
The hon. Lady makes a good point about women’s refuges in particular. I can tell her that the number of bed spaces in those refuges has increased since 2010, and has not decreased as she tried to imply, but I take her point.
I must stress that getting this right has been an important process. The problem with the supported housing that is currently provided is that, although the vast majority of providers are very trustworthy and provide a good level of support for very vulnerable people, other organisations that purport to provide supported housing, and charge the taxpayer for it, are not actually providing support for those people. We have had to address that important matter by ensuring that there is oversight in the system.
One of the submissions that the Minister has no doubt read is from the Salvation Army, which commissioned a report from Frontier Economics. I am sure he does not think that the Salvation Army is one of the organisations that are not able to provide good-quality care, but, according to the report, it is unable to provide the service that it would like to provide under the existing cost regime. Can the Minister reassure the Salvation Army that there will be no further cost-cutting? That would be so unfair to the most vulnerable in our society.
Organisations like the Salvation Army provide a very important service in many communities throughout the country, helping some of the most vulnerable people who have ended up on the streets and sleeping rough. As I think was mentioned in the joint Select Committee report, we have been very conscious of the need to look after the future of short-term as well as longer-term supported housing. That point was also made by the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne. I think that when our proposals are presented, the hon. Gentleman will see that we have certainly considered organisations that provide short-term supported accommodation, and we want to ensure that people receive the help that they need from organisations such as the one he mentioned.
Our consultation ended earlier this year. We welcomed all 592 responses, and since then we have taken careful stock of the views of local government providers and tenants. As I have already said several times, we also welcomed the Select Committees’ inquiry and subsequent report on the future funding of supported housing. I thank the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and the other members of those Committees for the part they played in putting forward many solutions on this important issue that we must get right. As I have said on several previous occasions, when our final proposals come forward it will be seen that we have listened.
Will the Minister give the undertaking that when the Government are finally ready to announce their full proposals, that announcement will be made here in the House, and that the Minister responsible will make an oral statement so that Members of all parties have a chance to hear and to question the Minister about those plans?
These are very detailed proposals because this is a very detailed policy area, and therefore Members will need to digest them. I will be candid with the right hon. Gentleman: we are currently considering what form that response takes, in terms of how we inform the House. However, we will certainly want to set out our plans, which we think are a very positive solution to the challenges in this regard, and will want to engage not only with Members, but with providers and investors, and with the people who receive this important support.
The Minister lists the people he will be consulting; will he discuss further with the Welsh Assembly Government how the proposals will play out in Wales? As is the case for my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), schemes have been delayed in Wales because there has been uncertainty about what happens with the block grant, whether there is a Barnett consequential, what happens with the Department for Work and Pensions, and how this will work at a local level. Will he discuss this matter with Cardiff, and has he already done so?
I will reassure the right hon. Gentleman by saying that our officials are already engaged with officials in the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland, and will continue that dialogue because this is an important issue in England. Our Department is responsible, with the DWP, for this policy in England, but there is also an implication for Scotland and Wales, and we want to make sure we support the implementation of the new system in those Administrations as well.
As I have said, I believe that our proposals will show that we have listened. We have paid careful attention to user groups concerned about short-term supported accommodation, as well as the concerns expressed in the Committees’ joint report. We know that a separate model is needed for short-term funding, and this different approach must work for both providers and vulnerable tenants. Hostels, refuges and other forms of short-term accommodation play a vital role in our society. They provide consistent high-quality support for vulnerable people, many of whom have experienced a real crisis in their lives, or are experiencing one at that point.
In particular, we are fully committed to ensuring that no victim of domestic abuse is turned away from the support they need. Since 2014 we have invested £33.5 million in services to support victims of domestic abuse, including refuges. Furthermore, in February we announced that 76 projects across the country will receive a share of our £20 million fund to further support victims of domestic abuse. We want to be clear that everyone who is eligible under the current system to have their housing costs met by housing benefit will continue to have their housing costs met through our funding model for short-term accommodation, and, as has been mentioned on several occasions in this debate, we also recognise that the sector needs the clarity to invest in future growth.
We recognise that we must foster and boost the supply of much-needed housing, building on the rent certainty given by the Prime Minister in her speech at the party conference and the announcement that she has made today. With demand set to increase, we know that it is vital to design a system that is fit for purpose.
Since 2011, we have delivered 27,000 units of specialist and general housing for disabled, vulnerable and older people. We know that the model of funding will need to build and encourage long-term sustainability, as well as supporting the development of new supply. It must also make the best use of the existing provision. Providers and investors have continued to bid for capital grant funding to finance and develop new supported and sheltered housing through this process, but we recognise that the supported housing sector needs greater certainty over funding to encourage and bring forward the new supply that many organisations up and down the country are looking to achieve. That certainty will help the sector to continue to deliver much-needed new supported housing and older people’s sheltered housing. We must also inject confidence into the sector by bringing clarity to future arrangements and, as I have said, we will do that shortly. Our proposals will show that we have taken the time to get this right, that we have listened and that we have put forward a model that works for longer-term accommodation.
I also want to mention strategic planning. Our continued engagement with local authorities and providers of supported housing has been highly constructive in that regard. We have been able to broaden our understanding of the importance of local strategic planning, partnership working, commissioning and oversight. The Select Committees’ joint report has highlighted the need to ensure that local authorities have sufficient guidance, time and resources if they are successfully to implement the new funding regime for supported housing. We have carefully considered these issues. We want to encourage local government, providers of supported housing and the wider public sector to continue to develop a joined-up strategic and holistic approach with a greater focus on local outcomes, oversight and value for money. We have also listened and recognised that, after our announcement, we will need to continue to engage with local government and the sector over the preparation and implementation of our proposals. As the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne pointed out, timing will be an important part of that.
We want the design of the reformed funding model to be flexible and responsive. We want it to meet the variety of demands placed on it for such a diverse sector and client base. We have therefore been working across Government, particularly with our colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, to consider the needs of all supported housing client groups. Our reformed model must work for vulnerable older people and disabled people as well as those with learning difficulties and those suffering from mental ill health. In this regard, I believe that our announcement will demonstrate our willingness to listen.
We are fully dedicated to safeguarding the most vulnerable people in our society. That is why we announced £400 million of funding in the spending review to deliver new specialist affordable homes for vulnerable and elderly people and those with learning disabilities. This is also why the Department of Health has committed £200 million to build new homes through the care and support specialised housing fund. On top of that, the Department of Health has committed £1 billion by 2020-21 for mental health services, including putting crisis resolution and home treatment teams on a 24/7 footing. Moreover, the spring Budget 2017 announced an additional £2 billion of funding in England to spend on adult social care, £1 billion of which will be provided this year.
As I hope I have made clear, protecting the most vulnerable in our society is a key commitment of this Government, and developing a workable and sustainable funding model for supported housing remains a priority. We have listened to the sector through our consultation, we have taken account of the joint report of the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee, I have taken on board the comments that the right hon. Gentleman made today, although they came to us very late in the day, and next week, as the Prime Minister set out, we will come forward with a positive, forward-looking solution to secure the future supply of supported housing.
Order. Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish National party, it will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon and that we have limited time. There will be an initial time limit of seven minutes, but that is likely to be reduced later. The time limit of course does not apply to Mr Neil Gray.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will keep my comments as brief as possible. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in yet another important Opposition day debate—important, but unfortunate. Just like the debates on universal credit and many other topics, it has had to be called due to potentially damaging and ill-thought-out proposed social security cuts and changes by the UK Government.
It appeared as though the debate would be characterised by the many features that have unfortunately become a recurring theme in the past few years: changes being proposed in the name of austerity and deficit reduction at all costs, a lack of consultation with the relevant bodies and those who will be directly impacted and no thought given to what some of the possible consequences may be. However, the Prime Minister’s answer today to the question from the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—not to take away from his creativity or independence of thought, I suspect that he may have had some inspiration from somewhere for that question—stated that the UK Government will not apply the local housing allowance cap to supported housing, nor implement it in the wider social rented sector. That suggests that the UK Government finally listened to the concerns raised by Parliament, the relevant Select Committees and the important voices within the sector who have done fantastic work campaigning against the cut, and they finally realised the alarm and concern that the uncertainty and potential consequences of this policy announcement were causing. It is a welcome step, but as the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), the shadow Minister, said, the devil will of course be in the detail, and we will be keeping a close eye on the consultation response when is published next week.
I hope that the reversal is not a one-off and that the Government will continue to review other policies that have been causing similar apprehension in Parliament and among constituents and relevant organisations—I am of course thinking of universal credit—but it is still worrying that the announcement was made only as a result of the Minister being forced to answer to the House in this way, thus prolonging the agony for a sector that has faced potential disinvestment as a result of the uncertainty caused by the proposals.
Such discussions should have taken place before the previous Chancellor’s announcement in the 2015 autumn statement that he planned to cap the amount of rent that housing benefit will cover in the social rented sector to the relevant local housing allowance rate. That announcement raised many concerns about the impact on the whole sector, and as we are here to discuss today, it was particularly worrying for tenants and providers of supported accommodation due to the higher rents that understandably typify this sector. I hope that today’s announcement has thankfully nullified some of the key reasons for why this debate was called, but the debate still provides a useful opportunity to remind ourselves of what is meant by supported accommodation and why it plays such a vital role throughout all our constituencies and communities.
Supported accommodation encompasses a wide range of different housing types, including hostels, refuges and sheltered housing. It exists to provide a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable within society: women fleeing domestic violence who are in need of protection, those with disabilities who require support in their day-to-day living and elderly people who require assistance to maintain their independence. In my constituency, one of the best examples of that is Monklands Women’s Aid, which is run by Sharon Aitchison and does fantastic work providing responsive domestic abuse services to women, children and young people.
Women’s Aid’s response to the UK Government’s original proposals emphasised the fact that benefit entitlement provides some sustainability and financial security to refuges in an otherwise challenging funding environment and is a vital interim protection until a sustainable funding solution for refuge is secured. Women’s Aid went on to call for the maintenance of the current funding system until a sustainable model for funding both the housing and support costs that refuges face is fully developed, piloted and secured.
It is crucial to preserve the stability on housing costs that housing benefit provides until the UK Government fulfil the commitment to a sustainable solution for both elements of refuge funding. Women’s Aid also highlighted the important point, of which the UK Government now appear to have taken cognisance, that:
“Designed to control housing benefit costs in the private sector, LHA rates bear no relation to the actual costs of providing supported accommodation such as refuges.”
Such places not only benefit those individuals and groups who rely on their services but provide a wider societal positive economic externality.
According to the National Housing Federation, the annual saving to the taxpayer through the reduced reliance of older tenants on health and social care services —that is also topical today—is estimated to be £3,000 per person. For people living with learning difficulties and mental health issues, the saving is between £12,500 and £15,500. The saving that the sector provides to the UK Government from lower costs for the NHS, social care and the criminal justice system is estimated to be in the region of £3.5 billion.
The reasons why supported accommodation carries higher rent costs than mainstream social housing are well known, and the previous Chancellor should have been more aware of them before he made this alarming policy announcement in 2015. Zhan McIntyre of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has said that the extra costs include 24-hour staffing of some facilities, the installation and monitoring of CCTV, high turnover rates in the accommodation, repair costs and enhanced fire monitoring and safety equipment.
Although this reversal is welcome, further clarity is still required on what the long-term policy and funding model will be and on whether the proposed replacement will be adequate for the future security of the sector, as the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne said.
A survey by the National Housing Federation in May 2017 suggests that some of the damage of the 2015 policy announcement has already been done, as it found that plans to develop new supported housing units have been reduced from 8,800 to 1,350 in the face of ongoing uncertainty about future funding streams, representing a decrease of 85%. That is particularly worrying given the growing demand for specialist and supported housing, and as with mainstream housing, it is essential that we find ways to incentivise, not to deter, further investment. It will be interesting to see how the Government aim to fill that rather large gap.
Shelter has raised concerns that the proposal essentially
“completely upends the financing of supported housing and introduces a huge amount of uncertainty to the sector.”
It is also particularly worried that, with local authority finances already squeezed,
“funding identified for housing costs could be used for other services.”
On 15 December 2016, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions and the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government announced a joint inquiry into supported housing funding, the report of which was published before the general election. The report, which my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) worked on, welcomed efforts to find a long-term sustainable funding mechanism for the sector but said:
“we share the concerns expressed across the sector that the funding proposals, as they stand, are unlikely to achieve these objectives.”
Now the Government have stated that they intend to abandon this route, we hope they will also announce a robust and sustainable plan and will protect the sector from any further announcements of cuts.
The American poet Robert Frost once defined a home as
“the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
For many people, the only suitable homes available are offered by the providers of supported accommodation. The Government’s reversal today is welcome, but concerns about the need for a system that safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported accommodation still need to be addressed to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society always have a place that will take them in.
I welcome this debate, as it follows on well from the half-hour Westminster Hall debate I secured on 10 October. That was very well attended and, although I was able to take some interventions, I am very aware that a lot of colleagues were not able to have their say. Today’s debate provides a further opportunity for Members from across the House to re-emphasise the vital importance of putting the funding of supported housing on a sustainable long-term footing. The task in front of us is not straightforward, but the more we debate the matter and talk about it in a constructive way, the better is the prospect of putting in place a sustainable system that can bring significant benefits to people who face very real challenges as they go about their everyday lives. We need a sustainable long-term solution; not a sticking plaster.
The case for supported housing is compelling. There is a rising demand for care and support, because of an ageing population and increased mental ill health and learning disabilities. A secure and comfortable home should be the cornerstone of life for everyone, regardless of their background and personal circumstances. If that cornerstone is in place, older people can retain their dignity and their independence, those fleeing domestic violence can find refuge and stabilise their lives and the homeless can more easily make the transition from living on the street to a settled home.
Supported housing provides outstanding value for money. For the elderly, it is less expensive than an alternative residential care setting. It has huge strategic advantages for councils providing adult social care services within very tight budgets, and its costs compare very favourably with those in the NHS. It is vital that the two Departments leading this debate, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, liaise and work closely with the Department for Health. There is a need to think outside departmental silos and to engage with NHS England.
For a relatively small cost to the public, supported housing reduces the strain on the NHS and care services, reduces unnecessary hospital stays and prevents moves to more costly residential care. It is important to highlight that if we get this right and put in place a sustainable and workable long-term funding system, it will be much easier to leverage in additional social investment capital into the sector. Cheyne Capital advises that if a sustainable framework had been in place over the past two years, it would have invested £120 million in supported housing.
Taking into account the strategic importance of supported housing, the Government were right to carry out the first evidence review of the sector in 20 years, publishing their findings on 21 October last year. On the same day, they launched their consultation on their preliminary proposals, setting up four task and finish groups to address specific challenges. The YMCA has welcomed much of the preparatory work that has been carried out, highlighting the Government’s commitment and willingness to engage with the sector. It is also important to highlight the significant amount of funding provided by the Government over the past five years, which the Minister has outlined.
The Government published their preliminary funding proposals on 15 September last year and these were then put out to consultation. Various concerns have been identified, and as we have seen with the announcement by the Prime Minister today on the removal of the local housing allowance cap for supported housing, the Government are very much listening.
There is a concern that the proposals are a one-size-fits-all approach and do not properly take account of the needs of the different parts of the sector—that has been highlighted by Centrepoint. There is also a worry that a postcode lottery might be created—Sense has highlighted that as well. We hope that today’s announcements will remove part of that concern, but the issue needs to be looked at closely.
There is clear evidence that developments are being put on hold; the Home Group advises that it has 1,842 homes in its build pipeline, but it has been unable to commit to developing these without clarity over future funding. There is a concern that the current proposed funding framework creates a funding gap for existing schemes—the YMCA has highlighted that. There are also worries about how the proposals will work alongside universal credit, as highlighted by Centrepoint and Emmaus.
On 1 May, the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee published their unanimous joint report, in which they made three recommendations to complement and build on the Government’s proposals. In my opinion, taking into account the feedback from across the sector, the Government should give full and serious consideration to adopting the recommendations. Along with five housing associations, my noble Friend Lord Best has looked at data from some 43,000 homes, and it appears that what they recommend does provide a viable and working option.
When the Government respond next week to the consultation that closed in February, they should put forward a revised funding framework. There should be a revised timetable for obtaining feedback on it, for carrying out an impact assessment and for road-testing it, and then for its introduction. There needs to be a clear direction of travel. As I have said, this is not a straightforward task, but I sense that by working together, a partnership of the Government, Parliament and the supported housing sector can put in place a long-lasting framework that addresses the concerns of many vulnerable people and in doing so provides them with dignity, peace of mind and hope.
Like the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for their work in chairing the joint inquiry, which produced an excellent report that was agreed unanimously by both the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee. It is a tribute to the strength of the Select Committee system that the joint inquiry listened to the evidence, which overwhelmingly said that the Government had got themselves into the wrong place on this issue.
The local housing allowance has no connection whatsoever with the costs of supported housing. By starting from the assumption that the two are connected, the Government could not come up with a system that worked. I am pleased that they have accepted that fundamental point today and agreed that the local housing allowance will play no part when they develop a new system to help supported housing. Having reached that position, away from the local housing allowance, the Government can get themselves to the point where they can develop a sensible system for the future. We will hear next Tuesday whether they will go on to develop such a sensible system, when they respond to the joint Select Committee report, but at least we are in a better place. I thank the Government for at least listening to that fundamental recommendation from the joint report.
We are currently waiting for the Government’s detailed response, but as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) just explained, Lord Best has worked with five housing associations and come forward with a considered piece of work that shows that a discreet and particular allowance for supported housing can be developed at no extra cost. Such an allowance should take into account the fact that the regional variations in the costs of providing supported housing throughout the country are actually very small. If we develop a system with small regional variations that is more related to the actual costs of supported housing, with relatively small top-ups, we can provide a much greater degree of certainty for supported housing providers.
One of the problems with the LHA system was that the massive differences in LHA rates throughout the country meant that we needed significant top-ups, which varied up and down the country. That introduced great uncertainty to the system. Suppliers have not been sure whether the top-ups would be forthcoming in future years, so the housing providers have not been able to go to their investors and say with certainty what their future funding and financial arrangements are. That was a problem, but hopefully we have got away from it. The scheme that was put forward in principle by the National Housing Federation and worked on by the five housing associations and Lord Best shows that it can be done in a way that does not cost any more but results in a much more sensible and considered system. I hope that the Government will reflect on that and come forward with something similar when they respond next Tuesday. We look forward to the details of that response.
It is important that, next week, the Government give us a timeframe, because 85% of schemes in the pipeline have been put on hold. There have been doubts about the continuation of some existing schemes, but, certainly, a big hold has been put on other schemes in the pipeline. Those are schemes that are badly needed by people for a whole range of reasons. Some people struggling in their own homes, for example, could be helped to live in much better circumstances. Let us have a timeframe for implementation.
We must also recognise that it is not just what we think about the proposals, but what the local authorities think as they will have to implement the costs and provide the grants. Most importantly, it is also what the providers—housing associations and others—think about them. After next Tuesday, will they say, “We now feel that we can go forward with this investment with some degree of certainty?” Will the Government take on board the recommendations of the joint Select Committee to bring forward these proposals not merely with a timeframe, but in a considered way to allow organisations to adapt to the changes—adapt in a way that means that these developments will proceed in the future in the way that we all hope.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, alongside that geographical flexibility, it is also important that faith-based organisations, such as Emmaus and the Salvation Army, have flexibility about the model that they provide—very often they work alongside Shelter—so that the new system can accommodate a variety of approaches?
The hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee, makes a very good point. Supported housing is often a global term used to describe a very wide variety of provisions from different providers and different suppliers. When we have a grant system that covers all such provision, it is important that it also covers the differences, and allows for those differences to be reflected in the way that the provision is made. When we get that recommendation from the Government next week, in response to the joint Select Committee report, it is important that it is flexible enough to take on board all those different circumstances. That is what I will be looking for. We will also be looking not just at the Government’s response, but at the response of housing associations and other providers as to how they view the Government’s proposals in terms of what they will enable them to do in the future.
I recognise that others wish to speak, so let me say to the Minister that I will wait for the recommendations next week before responding further. Obviously, that is the appropriate thing to do. However, it is clear that while the Minister’s response will be made directly to the two Select Committees—that is the way the Government will respond to our report—there clearly is a wider interest in the matter across the House among Members who do not necessarily belong to the two Select Committees. I am very happy to work with the Minister—I am sure that the same is true for my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee—to find a way in which these proposals can be shared and considered by all Members of the House. I hope that he will take on board that offer, because it is important that there is a wider debate on this as there is such widespread interest in it.
There is consensus across this Chamber that supported housing plays a hugely important role across the United Kingdom. Such housing supports those with learning difficulties, allowing them to live as independently as possible; helps the elderly who need more support at home but do not require to be in care; provides a safe refuge for those escaping domestic violence; helps ex-offenders make a successful transition back into mainstream society; and supports those who have experienced being homeless.
Supported housing can transform the lives of young people whose families have either put them in care or are no longer around to support them. Being in supported housing means not only that those young people have a roof over their heads, but, for the first time, that many of them feel they have some stability. There are many examples of this public service being provided in my own area in the Scottish borders. There is the Eildon Group, which provides sheltered housing in Galashiels, Hawick and Melrose in my constituency to help older people live independently and with dignity in their local borders communities. Streets Ahead is an organisation that has helped adults with learning difficulties into supported accommodation across the Scottish borders for the past 30 years. Supported housing cuts across many other services. Without homes like these, our health and justice sectors would face even greater demands. Because supported housing helps so many people with different needs, it is a complex area and one that the UK Government have rightly taken time to consider.
The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They cannot criticise the Government for failing to listen to the sector, yet at the same time criticise them for taking too long to announce their proposals. The truth is that the Government have shown that they are willing to listen to concerns about future funding for supported housing. After initial concerns, implementation of the local housing cap was delayed and the Government proposed an alternative top-up funding model.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I just want to make some progress, if I may.
Today’s announcement by the Prime Minister that the cap will not be rolled out for supported housing is just further evidence of the Government’s willingness to listen. I look forward to the Government’s detailed plans for supported housing funding, which will be published next week, as promised. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK Government have listened to concerns about the local housing allowance cap and that it will not be applied to supported housing or, indeed, the social housing sector more widely. I welcome the fact that the UK Government are engaging with the sector to decide how best to proceed. This is sensible.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the criticism is actually about the cuts to local authority funding. To challenge his point, Warwickshire County Council’s budget has been halved, and we have seen wholesale closures of much housing and many refuges, which has led to the number of people sleeping rough on the streets doubling in recent months. The issue is down to the lack of funding from central Government to our local authorities.
The time limits in this debate are really tight, so we cannot have long interventions. An intervention should be a quick point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. Of course, in my area of the Scottish borders it is the Scottish National party, which is in government in Scotland, that is responsible for the cuts to our local authority budgets, not the UK Government. Therefore, I suggest that the intervention directed to me should be directed to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, where the Scottish Government have slashed local government funding.
It is right that the UK Government are looking at how to ensure a sustainable future for supported housing. Under the last Labour Administration, spending on housing benefit increased by 46% in real terms. Average social rents have risen by around 55 % over the past 10 years, compared to 23% in the private rented sector. This was simply just not sustainable. It is essential, therefore, that whatever funding model is introduced for supported housing is sustainable and works for providers, commissioners and vulnerable tenants, as well as for the taxpayer. Whatever funding model is adopted—and if devolved Administrations are given control over funding—it is crucial that local variations are considered.
The local housing allowance rate in my area of the Scottish borders is the lowest in the whole of Scotland. It is therefore important that any future funding model encourages investors to come to the borders instead of building elsewhere. I hope that the Minister has considered areas such as the borders when deciding on the future funding model for supported housing. Of course, it is also open to the SNP Scottish Government to provide additional funding for those in receipt of housing benefit through discretionary housing payments, which have been devolved. I await with bated breath a commitment from any SNP Member who has concerns about the changes to supported housing payments actually to do something, rather than just complain. The Government have demonstrated that they are willing to listen to concerns.
The hon. Gentleman is new to this House, so I will forgive him, but SNP Members have been doing and saying things on this issue for quite some time. It may interest him to know that a Department for Work and Pensions civil servant told the Communities and Local Government Committee on 13 June last year that the evidence review and policy conclusions would be published “before the summer recess”. That was last year; we have been waiting for the Government to act for quite some time.
I thank the hon. Lady for that point. As she will know, I spent 10 years in the Scottish Parliament, listening to her colleagues complaining constantly about UK Government policy decisions. But despite the fact that the SNP there had more control over welfare than ever before, it was unable to use the powers it had to take action.
The Government have demonstrated themselves willing to listen to concerns about this important issue, and I welcome that. I am confident that we will see a set of proposals next week that will provide security and certainty for tenants and providers, as well as value for money for the taxpayer.
I am sorry that I have to reduce the time limit now to five minutes because so many people still wish to speak.
The Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government will not apply the local housing allowance cap to supported housing is a welcome U-turn. The proposed changes would have been detrimental to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. This is a victory for the housing sector, the Labour Front Bench and those Tory MPs who sought to persuade Ministers to listen.
The application of the local housing allowance rate was totally inappropriate, as it is a market-facing rate that bears no resemblance to the cost of building a domestic violence shelter, extra care schemes or hostels for homeless people. Had the changes gone ahead, they would undoubtedly have led to an increase in homelessness, which has risen every year since 2010.
There are some on the Opposition side of the House who would accuse the Government of deliberately setting out to target vulnerable people across a whole range of policy areas. The truth is that the pattern since 2010 has been for the Government, using the aftermath of the financial crash as the excuse, to slash and burn budgets in Whitehall with scant regard for the impact on the ground. Too often, those without a voice have borne the brunt of those attacks, with the Government cynically calculating that there would be little or no impact in the ballot box.
Constantly under Labour Governments we heard stories of families claiming £100,000-plus in housing benefit. In welcoming the Government’s announcement today on supported housing, does the hon. Gentleman accept that there was clearly a need to change the way we dealt with housing benefit?
This is not the place to repeat fake news. That was not the record of the last Labour Government. The reality is that rough sleeping was a consequence of the Thatcher years, which left a deeply divided and damaged society in this country. I see the consequences of that in my role as joint mayoral lead for rough sleeping and homelessness in Greater Manchester. Benefit sanctions and poverty, which mean that people cannot pay their rent, and the conduct of some private landlords are significant factors in the growing numbers of people sleeping on the streets of 21st-century Britain. We should collectively hang our heads in shame at this awful state of affairs.
In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham has shown real political leadership by making rough sleeping and homelessness a top priority for his mayoralty. We welcome the fact that, last week, the Government made £3.7 million available to enable Greater Manchester to support people who would otherwise end up on the streets. However, the roll-out of universal credit, savage cuts to mental health services, and benefit sanctions are leading to more people ending up on the streets and without appropriate accommodation. The Government are therefore having to spend money mitigating the impact of their own destructive lack of joined-up social policies.
The test of any society and any Government should be how they treat the most vulnerable, and this Government have a shocking record. If today’s U-turn is the beginning of a new approach, I and other Opposition Members will welcome it.
A supported home is vital. For women fleeing domestic violence, a supported home is a desperately needed safe space. For war veterans, a supported home is vital to help them to adjust to civilian life. For disabled people, a supported home is the bedrock of an independent life.
According to the National Housing Federation, the uncertainty the Government have been causing has already led to providers having to cut the number of supported housing homes they plan to build by 85%. What will the Government do in the context of this U-turn to deal with the fact that there has been a slowdown in the development of much-needed provision?
For thousands of vulnerable people—in my constituency and other constituencies—this U-turn is indeed welcome. The Government should now adopt the Select Committee’s recommendations in full. They must safeguard the long-term future, as well as the funding of supported housing and of the many excellent organisations that provide it on the frontline.
But beyond that, the Government should reflect on the consequences of failing to learn the lessons of history. The Thatcher era left a deeply divided and scarred society. I am sad to say that the current Prime Minister, who once spoke of the “nasty party”, will have to make many more U-turns to prevent this national tragedy from repeating itself.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments earlier today that the Government have listened to the concerns of all interested parties and that as part of the wider review they will not be applying the 1% cap for supported housing.
I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) for his contribution. He mentioned the National Housing Federation. After the comment this morning, David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, reiterated its pleasure in seeing that the cap had been lifted. I know that it will also be welcomed by housing associations such as Havebury Housing Partnership in my constituency, as housing associations provide about 71% of all homes in the area.
I believe that we all want a funding model that is secure, sustainable and understandable for tenants and providers in the long term, and that supports vulnerable people. I thank the previous Work and Pensions Secretary for getting the consultation started. It has to take some time, for supported housing rent levels are higher and the need is greater. I would like to address a couple of areas where we need to think more broadly—standards and supply. This feeds into the DCLG-DWP joint Select Committee report “Future of supported housing”, which recommended using a simple banded supported housing allowance taking into account regional variations and ensuring that London does not overly benefit, as well as dealing with anomalies in the system through a separate model that works with short-term accommodation for those of my constituents who live in refuges and hostels.
People are at the centre of the proposals that we bring forward. We should recognise that in the light of the debate about social care that we had earlier. Whether in social care or supported housing, different groups have different needs, and we must have systems that are attuned to this. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the built environment, I am very keen that we improve standards in our housing, because arguably we need homes for a lifetime. Government need to be more attuned to all parts of the mix when granting planning permissions, as the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) pointed out.
We need to understand that challenges in rural areas require a more holistic approach with regard to housing. A recent survey by one of my district councils frightened the people it consulted. In rural areas such as Stowlangtoft, Needham Market and Rattlesden, we need to gently explain to our constituents the nature of any changes that we are going to make. The great staff who work with them are often peripatetic and are asked to do a difficult job. With regard to space standards, people must not be put in too small houses, and housing must be flexible. For instance, houses should accommodate designs for a wet room, modifications, and places for support equipment. We can do this, but we need to think across Departments. It is also important to utilise modern methods such as quality insulation, which brings down the cost of housing for these vulnerable groups. It seems anomalous that we do not build to a very high standard that saves the very poorest people costs on their everyday household bills.
The Home Group housing association has 1,842 homes in the pipeline, some of which are in my constituency. We want to see those built so that people can have proper homes. What is being fed back from my local authorities is not just the lack of integrated supported housing but the need to ensure that it is part of the planning process, and that many wardens can live in the areas that they help to serve. Recent statistics show that 90,000 carers are over 85. This problem is going to grow, not go away. Our older people want to stay near the communities that they know and love, and younger people, like my young constituent who found it hard to travel to work because of her health requirements, need to be nearer to their places of work. We need systems that are attuned to our homeless people and refuges.
I look forward to a positive report on 31 October that gives clarity in looking at a banded system of sheltered, standard supported and specialised supported housing to ensure appropriate care and dignity for every one of our constituents.
I am pleased to take part in this important debate. It is important that the voice of the supported housing sector, with which I have a long association, is heard.
In their joint report, the Select Committees concluded that, overall, the sector offers good value for money and maximises tenants’ quality of life, but that some parts of it need attention. I do not know why the Government did not start by dealing with the parts that need attention, rather than concentrating on the sector as a whole. Overall, it is in pretty fine fettle and just needs more money and support than it is currently getting.
George Lansbury did more than anyone to fight the Poor Law, but if he were here today he would be staggered by the similarities between his time and our own. Underlying the Government’s approach seems to be talk about the undeserving poor. I always find that idea deeply upsetting, and we should all do our damnedest to make sure that policy is never written with that in mind.
Among the many submissions that we have received, there seems to be one major cry for help, namely that the level of uncertainty has caused immense problems. I welcome the fact that the Government have climbed down on the question of local housing allowance. Their attachment to the cap struck me as a bizarre way of dealing with those who need the most help.
I also welcome the fact that the Government will publish their final report next week. We look forward to that with expectation, and we hope that it will do the things that it should. In that regard, the Government could do no better than to look at the suggestions on page 5 of the report written by Frontier Economics for the Salvation Army; I mentioned that report in my intervention on the Minister.
The Salvation Army report looks at three issues that need to be addressed. The first is cost drivers, which include different geographical areas—that has been referred to—accommodation size and accommodation landlord type. The second issue considered in the report is how the cost compares with that of other provision. There is a range of providers of different types of housing, across a very wide spectrum, including housing for older people and the disabled, who need more generic help; provision for specialist groups, such as substance abusers and former service personnel, who have been mentioned; and very specialised provision, such as refuges for women who have faced abuse. The third issue considered in the report, and the one that is of most concern to many of us, is the top-up provided because of the nature of the support that very vulnerable people need. I ask the Government, when they make their final and complete judgment on the sector next week, to start with those important aspects.
The sector has faced difficulties, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) has said. The last few years have been very difficult, and we must recognise that we have to move forward. There has been a loss of supported accommodation, and uncertainty has resulted in underinvestment. I hope that the Government will take notice of that and reverse some of the cuts that they have imposed. Dare I say I hope they will recognise that the sector offers good value for money in the support that it provides? It invests its own money alongside that of the voluntary sector to make sure that our most vulnerable people are looked after as well as they possibly can be.
Order. I am afraid that I must now reduce the time limit to four minutes.
I refer Members to my declaration regarding supported housing in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who held a fantastic debate on this subject in Westminster Hall two weeks ago, and to other Members who have worked so hard to make sure that the concerns of the most vulnerable people in supported housing have been heard.
This year, we are celebrating the 100th birthday of Leonard Cheshire. In my west Cornwall constituency, I have a supported home run by Leonard Cheshire Disability. It does fantastic work, and yesterday I met the charity to hear again about its history of supporting our most vulnerable people over many years.
The YMCA is very active in my constituency. When I worked for it as a volunteer many years ago, I used to interview young people who required supported housing. Such housing was provided for a couple of years to help them to gain independence and rebuild their lives. Even now, despite the uncertainty of funding, it is developing 19 new homes in which to support young people.
In my constituency, DCH—Devon and Cornwall Housing—has forums where young people are supported, particularly those from care. One of my most enjoyable surgeries is when I go along there to work with them, but also to listen to them and respond to their concerns. Many years ago, long before I entered the Commons, I set up supported housing, and I have spent a lot of my time looking at how to support people with severe learning disabilities to stay close to their often elderly parents, but also gain their independence. Mencap does some fantastic work in my constituency, and for some time it supported my brother-in-law.
What is common to these organisations is that they recognise the need to reform how the funding for supported housing is provided. They also have in common the fact that they are delivering a step change in increasing their effort to assist all the people they support towards enjoying much greater independence. There has been a real change in recent years in how supported housing services work. They are seeking greater independence for the people they support, however much the rest of society may take the view that such people cannot live independently. They are doing more work on improving their access to education and further education; in particular, the forums are doing great work in this regard. They are also doing more work in providing opportunities for employment and preparing such people for employment. That fits very well with what the Government are doing through the Disability Confident campaign. I was grateful to hear the Prime Minister say that supported homes will no longer be included in the local housing allowance cap.
These organisations are doing fantastic work in my constituency of west Cornwall and Scilly, as are others around the country, in supporting our most vulnerable people who often cannot, for good reason, be cared for at home. They have a right to have a home of their own and to enjoy the same kind of accommodation and quality of life that everyone in the House does. It is therefore right that we should provide for them a secure, sustainable funding agreement. I look forward to the announcement on Tuesday and to the forthcoming debate on making sure we do the very best we can for these fantastic people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of supported housing.
I am delighted to take part in this timely debate. I of course welcome the Government’s latest U-turn in saying that the LHA cap will not be imposed on supported housing, although I have no earthly idea why they proposed imposing it in the first place. I look forward to next week’s announcement about how the UK Government will fund supported housing, as the devil will most certainly be in the detail. We need to reverse the cuts that have so negatively affected supported housing in the austerity era.
The months of uncertainty inflicted on the supported housing sector have been unfair and unnecessary, and show a failure to recognise the fantastic and all too necessary work done to support some of the most vulnerable in society. I have seen at first hand in my constituency the good work done by providers such as Blue Triangle in Renfrew, which provides housing to those who have been made homeless, and Bridgewater in Erskine, which provides safe accommodation for elderly people while enabling them to retain their independence.
As other Members have mentioned, supported housing provides essential services and it is vital that they are properly funded to help those most in need. Some of the people most in need of assistance are women and children fleeing abusive relationships. I hope, but do not expect, that the Government’s response next week will offer a long-term and sustainable funding formula for refuges. Refuges are an absolute necessity to ensure a safe route for those leaving a violent relationship. They perform a different function from other forms of supported housing and their distinct nature must be recognised. That must be captured in the Government’s response next week.
Refuges are categorised as short-term accommodation alongside other forms of housing, but they carry out a very different function and we cannot allow the Government to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to fund supported housing that might not meet the needs of refuges. Their distinct nature was highlighted by the recent cross-party report on housing funding from the Communities and Local Government, and Work and Pensions Committees, which has already been mentioned. It said:
“Refuges for women and children have unique challenges within the supported housing sector”
and called on the Government to
“work with Women’s Aid and refuge providers to devise a separate funding mechanism for this sector”.
I am keen for the Minister to respond directly to the point about how the changing funding model meets the distinct challenges facing women’s refuges and the wider housing sector. Will he confirm whether a bespoke funding model will be developed for those life-saving services and accept the invitation to work with Women’s Aid and others to find a system that supports refuges?
The uncertainty around the supported housing sector and the shortfall in the number of refuge places force women and children to continue to live in violent relationships, putting their health, welfare and possibly even their lives at risk. Today’s U-turn, although welcome, does not go far enough to offer the long-term funding that these vital services need to enable them to continue to offer the support required. A failure to offer long-term and sustainable funding for refuges next week will result in more services closing their doors for good. In many cases, refuges being closed or full will push women to return to an abusive relationship.
Shamefully, demand for refuges far outstrips supply and the uncertainty over the new funding model for supported housing has only added to that problem. We cannot allow ourselves to close the door on women and children who are looking for help, often at the most critical and stressful time of their lives. We simply cannot allow that to happen. The Government must work with Women’s Aid and others to find a system that provides a secure, separate and ultimately sustainable funding settlement for refuges. Nothing else will suffice.
I want briefly to introduce a tone of optimism and positivity to the debate, although before I do so I need to refer people to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which says that I chair the board of a 20,000-house housing association across 18 separate authorities. I am not speaking from that perspective, however.
Before I came to the House, I worked for YMCA Birmingham for three years. When I joined the YMCA, it was a recent recipient of approximately £1 million from the Homes and Communities Agency, which allowed it to build 33 units of move-on accommodation. Those who know the sector will understand that if someone is in supported accommodation, they need somewhere to go for the next step of their journey, so the delivery of those 33 units was critical in freeing up the pipeline to allow us to move people along their journey. That was three and a half years ago.
Move forward three years, and just as I was leaving the YMCA we had it confirmed that we had £850,000 of homelessness change funding from the HCA and the Department of Health that allows us to renovate a homelessness hostel we have in Northfield—a 72-bed hostel in not very good condition. The ground floor of that hostel will now have en suite accommodation as well as training and health facilities. That is an absolutely amazing development for the people who use that service. They will have not just great quality accommodation, but training facilities on site that will help them to get employment. It will also allow health visitors to come in and give them the healthcare they need.
The YMCA has been around since 1844. George Williams founded it and Birmingham set up its YMCA fairly soon after. I am reliably informed by my old chief exec that one of the first meetings of the board of YMCA Birmingham referred to the distinct lack of funds; 173 years later, YMCA Birmingham appears to have coped quite well. Such organisations adapt and change to the circumstances they find themselves in.
The YMCA has set up some social enterprises. For example, Adele Biddle and Emma Rhymes are working tirelessly to generate income from their social enterprises, which they hope will ultimately fund and support some excellent housing activities. Today, we have the announcement from the Prime Minister that the LHA cap will not apply. What do I say? I say some organisations battle on regardless of what the Government do. They continue to do their—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am nearly finished. Trust me, I will be quick.
Organisations battle on regardless of what Governments of any persuasion do and they continue to offer excellent work. Occasionally, and fortunately, they are subsidised and supported by an excellent Conservative Government. The YMCA has produced hundreds of thousands of pounds and it will, no doubt, continue to deliver its excellent work for at least another 173 years.
Optimism and positivity: I really hope that is what we get from the Government next week. I really hope they commit to dealing with the funding gap and the details of this proposal. I welcome the metaphorical rabbit that was pulled out of the Prime Minister’s metaphorical hat this morning, but I have to say it is a great shame that it took almost two years for it to happen. There has been a great deal of concern on the part of pretty much everyone.
In Wales there are, at a conservative estimate, at least 38,500 supported housing units. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) mentioned earlier, there are real concerns about how any changes relate to Wales and the block grant. I hope the Government will answer that fully next week. In Wales, as in all the other nations and regions of Great Britain, a huge range of projects comes under the banner of supported housing. They include hostels for homeless people, domestic abuse refuges, and a range of supported accommodation projects aimed at supporting people to move on to independent tenancies. In my own area, there is an excellent women’s refuge run by Welsh Women’s Aid. There are projects run by Hafan Cymru that support people as they move on in their lives, and Tŷ Nos hostel in Wrexham can house 16 roofless people on a short-term basis.
Homelessness should be a concern for all of us. Last summer, I met concerned local residents from my constituency who formed a group called Help Wrexham Homeless. They are rightly calling for more night shelter places, which requires more security of funding. It is vital that that comes to our area. I pay tribute to Wrexham Council’s Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham—AVOW—for its work in this area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) mentioned the recent excellent report, “The Salvation Army’s Supported Housing: Analysis of the Costs of Provision”. The Salvation Army is a huge provider of supported accommodation right across the UK. The report made the startling point that had the Government continued with the system they originally wanted for local housing allowance, the rates would have borne no relation to the cost of providing supported housing. It also made the point—I hope the Government will take great notice of this—that long-term funding security needs to be offered.
The hon. Lady mentions the Salvation Army, which does excellent work and helps 6,000 individual tenants. Does she agree that direct Government contact with the Salvation Army might helpful, if the Minister has not already done it, to gauge its opinion on supported housing?
Very much so. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I recommend the Salvation Army report and I believe the Government should answer fully all the points made in it.
Many Members will remember eight years ago a gentleman by the name of David Cameron—he subsequently became Prime Minister—giving the Hugo Young memorial lecture. In his speech, he committed to greater support for voluntary groups and charities, expressing the view that they should play a key role in helping people escape poverty. That was called the big society. I listened to the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), but this is not about charities carrying on regardless of how useless the Government are at listening to them; it is about us working together, and I really hope that next week, when the Government come to the House, they will come with new heart, a new vision and new security on this issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) is absolutely right to say that this is a happy day for the House of Commons: the Prime Minister has made an important remark on policy; the Minister has said the Government will respond to the consultation on supported housing by broadly adopting the recommendations in the joint Select Committee report; and Members on both sides of the House, housing associations and charities have welcomed the direction of travel, and we will have the details in a week’s time.
I thank my co-Chair for the joint Select Committee report, the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who was on the Committee and knows a lot about the sector, other Members, including the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who was on the Committee as well, and the Chairs of the two Select Committees, who commissioned our report. We should also warmly thank Lord Best and the five housing associations—I do not have time to name them all—that road-tested our recommendations and improved the detail. We should also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who has held two debates on this subject.
Above all, what this shows—and what today’s debate shows—is why Select Committees are important, why working cross-party really does matter, which is not something that all new Members seem to have yet grasped, and why Parliament should be proud that such a report can have a real impact on the Government. It was delivered in May, just before the election and long recess, and the Government will be making the announcement in late October. This, then, is a good day.
It is worth reminding those listening of the key recommendations, which have the backing of the sector and now the Government: a separate supported housing allowance; a limited number of regional variations; tenants eligible for supported housing allowance only if they are in accommodation that is regularly inspected; national standards to monitor the quality of the supported housing allowance accommodation; and a separate funding system—this is important—for women’s refuges, about which I hope the Minister will say something later.
I regret that not all charities in their briefings seemed to have read the recommendations. In its response, Shelter wrote that it had
“responded to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s inquiry into the issue”,
but it made no comment on the recommendations. I encourage all charities to look closely at Select Committee reports and endorse them where they find them useful.
Inevitably, success has many fathers, so it is not surprising that the Labour party and the Scottish nationalists—I even heard a reference to Andy Burnham at one point—have wished to add their names to the credits at the end of this film. In my view, it does not matter who tries to take the credit; what matters is that Parliament has had a significant say in shaping Government policy. I hope that the announcement next week will confirm the details, although there are questions that I hope the Government will cover—I know that the Minister will take note of this. We need answers to the questions on funding, the number of regions, the timetable for implementation, the quality assurance and the refuges themselves. I hope that all this in turn will trigger announcements from the housing associations on the go ahead for the projects that have been put on hold but that will enable us to have more supported housing.
Once again, we see Labour pushing the Government into a more sensible and reasonable course of action, and we await the details of the proposals next week. It is about time, too. The Minister said nothing to enlighten us about why the Government prevaricated over this decision for so long. Their consultation exercise ended in February this year, and we have waited for six months since the publication of the joint Select Committee report, which produced a huge amount of evidence to show that the local housing allowance rate was a totally
“inappropriate starting point for a new funding mechanism for supported housing”.
That view has been reiterated by organisations and charities throughout the housing sector. What they have said demonstrates that the proposals for an LHA cap in the supported housing sector made no sense and that the cap would have been hugely damaging to the lives of hundreds of vulnerable people in our communities.
It is clear from the briefing that we received from the Riverside Group that a number of national studies have shown that supported housing provides excellent value for money, as well as having very good outcomes in reducing health problems and care and criminal justice costs. They also keep many people out of full-time residential social care, which has a considerable bearing on the previous debate. The Government should therefore be thinking about how to support the supported housing sector. What we heard earlier today was welcome, but I do not think they fully understand the impact of their delay and indecision. We know that 2,000 planned supported housing developments have been postponed and more than 800 cancelled, and that 22 existing schemes face closure—and that is quite apart from the impact on individuals who have been extremely anxious.
Let me give an example from my constituency. The one-bedroom local housing allowance cap in Durham is £74.79. The cost of the average supported housing scheme for people with learning difficulties and mental health needs is £164.73, nearly three times the LHA cap. No wonder people have been so concerned about the issue.
My constituency also has a specific problem caused by a hospital closure programme. A specialist supported housing scheme is keeping people out of hospital and is costing £379 per week because they are extremely vulnerable. We need to hear from the Government whether their proposals will cover such schemes, as well as kick-starting development in the sector for people with multiple needs. We also need to hear whether the needs of young people will be addressed. We were given a very good briefing by the YMCA about the shortfall in its funding, and I hope that the Minister will tell us how she will ensure that young people’s needs are met.
I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister announce this afternoon that there will be no housing benefit cap for tenants of supported housing. Many Members in all parts of the House have drawn attention in earlier debates to the difference that supported housing can make to individuals. I look forward to the announcements next week and hope that there will be some more positive news then.
In the short time that I have, I want to highlight one example in my constituency of the difference that supported housing can make to the lives of young people. Newhaven Foyer, which is run by the Salvation Army, looks after young people who have either been in care or have been at risk of homelessness because they come from difficult family backgrounds. I have had the privilege of meeting some of those young people, who have told me their stories. I spoke to one young man who said that before he went into Newhaven Foyer he had intended to commit a crime to be arrested and be sent to prison, so that he would have a roof over his head and some food of an evening. That cannot be a future that we want for any young person in this country.
Not only is the rent paid for the young people at the Foyer, but the service charge pays for support workers to help them to make a fresh start in life. Those workers help young people to learn how to budget and pay bills, ensure that they get to college in the mornings when they do not particularly want to go, help them into apprenticeships, help them to learn how to write CVs and help them to learn to live with other people.
One young girl told me about her family. Her mum was an alcoholic who was often drunk, so she had to bring herself and her sister up on her own. For her 16th birthday, her mum bought her a bottle of whisky, and drank it before lunchtime, so she got no birthday present at all. This is the sort of background these young people have come from, and supported housing is giving them that fresh start.
In a way, supported housing is a Conservative policy, because it gives people a fresh start regardless of their background, or where they have come from, or how difficult an upbringing they have had. Supported housing can give them the tools to get on in life and allow them to make the most of their talents and aspirations. It is a philosophy that I passionately believe in.
The Minister was right to say in his opening remarks that it is also of net fiscal benefit to the country. For some people, it can make a difference overall of £940 a year in benefits, and if there was no supported housing, we would be paying a lot more than that. For the country, the net benefit is over £3.6 billion a year. It is money well spent and, more importantly, it transforms lives.
I could cite numerous examples from my constituency. BHT Sussex provides addiction services and supported housing for people with alcohol and drug addiction, through many years of an abstinence-based approach. I have met people whose lives have been transformed and who have beaten addiction and are now contributing to society. That is not just rescuing their lives; it is rescuing their families’ lives, too, and is making a big difference to the country as a whole.
I welcome today’s news, and am optimistic about next week’s announcements.
I also welcome the announcements. I think I have asked for the local housing allowance rate to be removed in the mind of policy makers from supported housing every single time I have spoken in this House, so I am pretty chuffed that that was finally heard.
The hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) is a passionate speaker, and it is nice to hear somebody in the House who sounds a bit like me, but I do not share much of his optimism, because when I have walked around the streets of Birmingham during the past seven years I now step over the bodies of people who have nowhere to live, and that was not the case before. In Birmingham, a man was found dead in the streets because he was cold and homeless. With the greatest respect, therefore, although the support of services like YMCA in Birmingham is brilliant, 33 beds for a population of 1 million is a woeful figure.
I said there were an additional 33 beds. There are 300 units of accommodation across Birmingham.
And we would need an additional 300 to get anywhere close to dealing with the problem.
I have worked in Birmingham for over 25 years and can confirm that the problem to which the hon. Lady refers has existed for a very long time.
I have lived there all my life and have worked in homelessness services for most of my adult life, and I can absolutely guarantee that right now it is worse than I have ever known it. For me to say otherwise and be positive about the situation would be to tell a lie, and I am not willing to do that.
Given my own experiences, it will be no surprise that I am going to stick up for refuge accommodation. I take issue with the Minister’s assertions that no one is turned away, because currently in this country one in four women are turned away; that is 78 women every day and 78 children every single day who find that there is nowhere for them to live. That is what is happening now. So the future assertions about refuge are very welcome, but, as was stressed in the brilliant report by Members, which has been mentioned already and is worthy of praise, women’s refuge needs a specific and different model taken off-stream, and it needs sustainability. I want to talk a little bit about why sustainability matters.
After the most recent general election—there have been more than there should have been in the time I have been here—I recall the Prime Minister commiserating with her colleagues who had lost their seats. How difficult that must have been for her, having caused the demise of their jobs. However, where I worked, I had to put every single member of staff on notice every January. Everyone was given a notice warning that their job might not be there in March because we lived hand to mouth on year-on-year funding. That is not the way I would operate my household income, and it is not the way to operate an organisation. It is not what the Government should want for the most vulnerable people in society, but that is what is happening in every supported housing charity in the country at the moment. Every single year, we had to put people on notice, and sometimes we would find out only on 30 March what funding we were going to have for the next year. There needs to be a sustainable funding pot.
I want to pick up on another thing the Minister said in his opening speech. He said he knew that demand was going to get higher. It is utterly shameful for him to stand at the Dispatch Box in this building and say, “We know it’s going to get worse. We know that more people are going to need supported accommodation.” There is one reason why the Government will need more supported accommodation for the people I have been dealing with: universal credit.
At the moment, if a woman is receiving benefits through tax credits, the money goes to her. There are lots of women across the country saving up money and putting it away, so that they can escape and will not need a refuge bed. However, under the new universal credit system, every single penny going into that household will be paid to one person. It does not take a genius to work out who usually gets the money in a household, so that money will now be going to the man. The woman, whose financial constraints are already so severe, will be limited even further by the Government’s proposals, which will not allow women to break free when they need to.
I have asked the Department for Work and Pensions whether it is monitoring who is getting the money in split payments, why people are asking for split payments and whether anyone has even asked for split payments. I have asked what data it is collecting about split payments and, funnily enough, the answer is always, “I’m sorry, we don’t collect that data.” The Government are not collecting data, and they are turning a blind eye to a group of people who are so vulnerable that they will be turning up on our doorsteps, at our surgeries and at our refuges, where they will be turned away because there is nowhere for them to go. On Tuesday, I want to see a sustainable plan that lasts for a term that is longer than five years. We have just been given another five-year term here, so how about we give that to them? We need a specific funding model for refuge services because, without it, people die.
It is a pleasure to follow the contribution from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), and I thank her for taking my intervention. Members on both sides have made some excellent points today and I really hope that the Ministers are listening; I am confident that they are. It was also a great pleasure to listen to the Minister’s opening remarks, in which he outlined the extensive investment and support that has gone into this sector over the course of this Parliament and the last one. This demonstrates the seriousness with which the Government are treating this critical issue for our communities and our society. Let us not forget that this has been achieved against a challenging and difficult financial backdrop. When we talk about what we are hoping to hear, let us look also at the record of investment that we have already delivered, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) suggested.
I saw this provision for myself when I visited Dorothy Terry House in Redditch on one of my first constituency visits. It provides incredible enriching care for elderly and complex-needs patients, including people with dementia and a number of other needs. It has 42 highly specified one and two-bedroom apartments and communal areas designed to ensure that residents can lead an enriching life and have access to all the local amenities of Redditch on their doorstep. It has welcomed the announcement that the Prime Minister made at the Dispatch Box today. During my short time in Parliament, I have engaged extensively with representatives of the housing sector, including the National Housing Federation, which I am glad to see has welcomed this announcement. I am glad that the Government are listening, and I have seen Ministers taking extensive notes about the points made today, so I look forward to hearing about what they will bring forward on Tuesday.
I know that Government will be doing this, but I call on them to consider the recommendations of the report by the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee, to which many Members have referred and which contains some excellent points. It is important to have a separate funding model for refuges and hostels, because they play an important role for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence, as we have heard already. We take that seriously, and we want those important services that play a vital role in our communities to be protected. Our Prime Minister also takes it seriously, and when she was Home Secretary I went with her to a supported facility that puts on treatment and programmes for women in Birmingham. I saw how she listened to the families and women and how much she took from that meeting.
As a new Member, I am glad for the opportunity to take part in Opposition day debates, and I think I have taken part in every single one. I do not always agree with the Opposition motion, which is why I choose to exercise my right to vote or not to vote, as the case may be—[Interruption.] I think that is democracy. I am here to decide after taking part and sitting and listening to the debate and the arguments.
The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman came up with four tests for the Government’s consultation that he expects to see next week, but I want to ask him about one thing. He will obviously be critical of what comes forward, but I would like him to take the proposal seriously and to engage in a serious discussion about the necessary funding and about how he and his party would fund the need in this area without racking up more debt or increasing taxes.
Order. Without interventions, the remaining 10 hon. or right hon. Members who wish to speak will be able to do so for four minutes each. If there are interventions, which is perfectly legitimate, that prospect might be imperilled. I will leave it there, and Members must take responsibility for trying to help each other. They are all on the same side of the House, so it should not be that difficult.
The proposed changes to funding for supported housing, namely the implementation of the local housing allowance cap, has created considerable uncertainty for the sector and for people who live in supported housing in Hartlepool. The proposed funding model of implementing the LHA cap and then devolving additional top-up funding to local councils would have created a postcode lottery, meaning that tenants in certain areas could lose out and be forced to make up any shortfall in funding.
Rents and service charges in housing association supported housing schemes are regulated, but they are usually higher than in general social housing due to the extra cost of building adaptations and meeting tenants’ care and support needs. A typical example of such accommodation is Bamburgh Court in Hartlepool, which I have had the pleasure of visiting. Bamburgh Court provides extra care housing to help over-55s with a range of care needs to live independently within the community. There are 72 properties at Bamburgh Court, including 41 one-bedroom flats, 24 two-bedroom bungalows and two three-bedroom houses. Care for residents is provided 24/7 through personal support plans.
Bamburgh Court is a fine example of a modern, state-of-the-art complex for the provision of supported independent living for the vulnerable and people with special needs. The weekly rent for a property is £84.89, with a £38.04 service charge to cover all maintenance, fire safety measures and general upkeep. Under current housing benefit rules, most tenants qualify for the cost of their accommodation in full. However, despite their need for specialist accommodation, under the LHA cap these vulnerable people would have received only the maximum of £97.81 for a two-bedroom property and £83.78 for a one-bedroom property. If residents had been forced to fund the shortfall, that would have meant serious hardship and the possible loss of their homes.
Such accommodation as that run by Thirteen housing group at Bamburgh Court gives comfort, support, hope and security to so many people. Such schemes would have been in serious jeopardy if the proposed cap were to be implemented. In my original speech I would have urged the Government to think again, and I hope that next Tuesday’s statement will prove that they indeed intend to do so. Given that only a partial statement on the cap was made this morning, I await the full statement with bated breath.
Across the two boroughs I serve in St Helens South and Whiston there are 2,894 people living in and benefiting from supported housing. These are people and families who have fled violence in their home. There are 54 homes across the boroughs that provide support to help them build capacity to manage and enjoy family life again. These are people with several and, in some cases, severe disabilities. These are young adults, and occasionally young people, who have found themselves with no home and often no family to turn to. These are young adults who have turned to alcohol and other substances to camouflage the pain of broken family relationships. These are homeless people, some former servicemen and some former prisoners. A significant number are older people who have been encouraged to give up their three-bedroom homes—homes they have built up over several decades—and move into sheltered housing to provide a home for their family.
The purpose of supported housing is to prevent people from reaching a crisis point and placing heavy demands on other, more costly public services, such as when a pensioner trips and falls at home and has to go into hospital. It is therefore important to ensure that there is funding for such housing in the new system and that the Government do not create an artificial distinction between short-term emergency accommodation and long-term accommodation.
The system needs to recognise the dynamic of people’s needs and living arrangements. The issue before us today is about not only the availability of funding but the availability of places to support people. I thank the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who was busy over the weekend adopting Labour’s plans for house building. Some say that he is bidding to become leader of the Conservative party, but the quickest, simplest and cheapest method to build houses is to give certainty to social landlords across the country who, in many cases, have delayed and abandoned plans to build new rooms in the supported housing sector. In Knowsley, 227 planned units were subject to a lengthy pause because of the lack of certainty, and there is a risk that once those units, plus 150 homes being built in St Helens, are fully built, they could be taken out of the supported housing sector altogether and let as housing with no support at all.
The Communities Secretary was slapped down by the Chancellor. The supported housing sector has been waiting for an indication of Government policy since February so that it can prepare and plan the funding models for future developments. Instead, the Government’s dithering is having a chilling effect on development and much-needed provision.
I appreciate that the Government originally delayed the implementation of their 2015 proposals, giving them time to upskill themselves on the needs of supported housing residents, but the Government have taken two years, they have consulted widely and the sector has made many submissions. One question was on how they can ensure that local allocation of funding by local authorities matches local need. Indeed, we are still waiting for the answer.
The Government’s proposal to devolve a set figure via a top-up grant, in light of shrinking council budgets, is not the answer. The devolved figure is a set amount and will not take account of changes throughout the year. It is wholly unacceptable that those in greatest need are materially worse off because of where they live in the borough. We do not accept such a provision on healthcare, and we should not accept it on housing needs.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. First, may I welcome the Government’s U-turn, which the Prime Minister announced earlier today? Although we await further details, I am pleased the Government have finally listened to the multiple charities, housing providers and two Select Committees, which told them in no uncertain terms that there is no correlation between supported housing costs and LHA. The Government’s proposal would have left constituencies such as mine deeply disadvantaged, with care provision based on a postcode lottery.
Although we have heard that the Government do not now propose to use LHA as a measure for supported housing, we are still none the wiser as to how they will fund it. As a Member of Parliament for a constituency in the north-west, I ask the Government to provide assurances to my constituents that our region will not be underfunded, as the previous proposal would have meant. Supported housing schemes locally have been a successful way of transforming services, while enhancing the lives of our most vulnerable through independent living arrangements, all with an individual story of success. Unless the Government now offer a comprehensive offer to replace their previous policy, local charities have warned that this could risk the recovery of those residents with mental health conditions, increase the demand on the already strained NHS, and lead to a spike in evictions and homelessness.
We are talking about the most vulnerable in our society: victims of domestic abuse; those made homeless; individuals who suffer from physical and learning disabilities; and the elderly who are otherwise unable to care for themselves. First, the Government left them with the uncertainty and anxiety of a cap which does not meet their care costs, and they are now being left with the anxiety of what will replace the Government’s policy, which is simply a dereliction of duty by the Government. I hope they will act urgently to bridge that uncertainty.
Now that the Government are considering their new proposal, I ask them to consider two points, the first of which is that local authority budgets must be protected and supported. The previous proposal would have placed an enormous strain on local authorities to process top-up payments, which were only ring-fenced by the Government for the first year of implementation. Therefore, whenever the Government come forward with an alternative funding system I urge them to consider the impact it will have on local authorities, which deserve to receive the funding and support they require to assist the residents of supported housing. Secondly, the funding model must be a fair system which provides equal assistance across the country. The previous proposal would have underfunded regions such as the north-west, left tenants relying on local authority top-up funds, and put tenants at risk of eviction and homelessness. Any future proposal must distribute supported housing support fairly and meet the care needs of every tenant.
The previous arbitrary cap has already caused immense stress and anxiety to thousands of people who were unsure whether their supported housing payments would meet their costs. Today, these residents are even more uncertain about their situation moving forward. These include residents with mental health challenges and learning difficulties, who simply should not be subjected to this undue stress. I therefore call on the Government to take this opportunity to apologise to these tenants of supported housing for the uncertainty and anxiety this has caused, and to adopt the Select Committee’s recommendations. The Government should also provide assurances to the residents of supported housing, as well as to local authorities, and to the incredible charities and housing groups providing these vital services, that the Government are committed.
I recently held a series of events in my constituency called the “Big conversation”, and I was pleased to visit an open day on supported housing at the Salvation Army hostel in Hull, with representatives from Emmaus and the Hull Resettlement Project, among others. The real impact these organisations have on people’s lives is heartening. One companion from Emmaus described what Emmaus had given him as “a life package”. He said that it had given him more than a home—it had given him work and a family, too—and without it he would again be on the streets.
The very idea that such incredible organisations could be at risk because of delays and uncertainty is abhorrent. Yes, the cost of supported housing is more expensive than that of rented property, but supported housing is cost-effective. The National Housing Federation says that supported housing actually saves the public purse an average of £940 per year, and, depending on the type of scheme, the savings can be even greater—for example, for people with learning disabilities it could be £6,000 per year. Yes, although it is great that the Prime Minister is giving in to Labour party pressure and abandoning the Government’s plans to cap housing benefit at LHA level, the devil will be in the detail on this. She has not told us what the Government plan to replace that funding with, and they must get the plans right.
I have a few questions for the Government. Do they still want to make their proposals fit in with universal credit, as they promised in 2011? If so, how are they going to do that while abandoning the local housing allowance cap? Do they still wish to make their proposals fit with a locally based fund? If so, how will they ensure that investment does not gravitate towards areas with higher property prices and that those in supported housing in places such as Hull are not punished for living in areas with low property prices? Do they accept that any funding formula must provide for choice, control, equality and independent living and ensure that the real costs of supported housing are met? If so, when will they offer the certainty that the supported housing sector needs and publish plans for a supported housing funding formula to do just that? Will they please review the local housing allowance rates for the private rented sector to prevent homelessness and reduce the need for supported housing in the first place?
All societies should be judged on how they treat their most vulnerable and needy. The whole country will judge each and every Member who fails to support those who need us the most.
This has been a long and convoluted debate, starting back in 2011 and continuing through 2015 and 2016 and up to now. It was said earlier that it is good that the Government are listening, but surely it would have been a lot more logical for them to have listened first, before they acted and threw the sector into such chaos. Nevertheless, I am glad that they have listened. I pay tribute to those in the sector throughout the UK, including the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation. I pay particular tribute to the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and to Zhan McIntyre and Jeremy Hewer, who have done a huge amount of work on this issue, making sure that we are all kept well informed about the developments in Scotland.
Like other Members, I challenge the Government on some of the detail. At the very least, there should be no detriment to any housing provider—no housing provider should lose out as a result of the future proposals. I challenge the Government to tell us the level of funding for supported accommodation that will be considered reasonable. There has been some debate about the cost of supported accommodation, which varies widely from sector to sector and from specialist provider to specialist provider. We need to understand what a reasonable cost actually is, because there can be such huge variations, depending on the type of housing provided.
We need to look into the funding assumptions for the years ahead, because we know from the National Housing Federation that 85% of developments have been pulled because planning assumptions could not be made on the basis of the funding that was going to be available. That was compounded by the 1% rent reduction imposed on housing associations in England, which meant that they could not act on the funding plans they had made, and there was a subsequent impact on house building and housing provision.
I was tempted to read from the transcript of the debate in June last year, because much of what I wanted to say today was still true, until the Prime Minister sprang her U-turn. I have previously made the point about the time limits on short-term accommodation. Will there be a time limit for people in short-term temporary accommodation? Not everybody will be ready to move on at the point at which someone has set a time limit. Local providers need flexibility to ensure that people are protected.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations asked specifically for any new funding model to be piloted and evaluated before it is fully rolled out. It also asked for the implementation of any recommendation to be deferred until the completion of the universal credit roll-out in 2022. Perhaps the Minister can give us a little more information on those issues.
Scottish Women’s Aid has asked for clarification on the shared accommodation rate and for particular provision to be made for cases of domestic violence, similar to the easement in the jobseeker’s allowance system, to provide flexibility for women.
Members have not given a huge amount of attention to the wide range of conclusions and recommendations in the report, which I was glad to be part of producing. It recommends that attention be given to the oversight arrangements for housing in supported accommodation in England. The report says that the Select Committees believe that
“the oversight arrangements in Scotland are better than they are in England,”
“lessons can be learned from the Scottish system to make the system of oversight in England simpler and more robust.”
I urge the Government to look at the Scottish system, because it is very robust.
The report recommends that a capital grant scheme is introduced for new supported accommodation and that the funding mechanism reflects actual costs. It also recommends that the Government consider the housing benefit rate for 18 to 21-year-olds, because they should be supported when they leave supported accommodation. In England there is currently a disincentive for them to leave supported accommodation because they will not be eligible for housing benefit.
I am pleased to contribute to this debate. With the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), I was co-chair of the recent joint inquiry of the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee on the future of supported housing. I add my thanks to my co-chair, to members of both Committees who contributed to the inquiry, to the Clerks and advisers who helped the Committees, and to all the witnesses and organisations that submitted evidence to the inquiry.
It was a privilege to co-chair the inquiry and to read and hear evidence from residents and providers across the country on the difference that supported housing makes to individuals and communities. I am particularly pleased that we facilitated residents of supported housing, including a survivor of domestic abuse, a man with sight loss and Tessa Bolt who has Down’s syndrome, to give evidence in person to the Committee. Their evidence on the value of supported housing was particularly powerful.
Some 700,000 people in the UK benefit from supported housing and the different types and categories that those individuals fall into have been referenced today, and, as time is short, I will not rehearse them again. The inquiry received strong evidence that residents of supported housing benefit from better health outcomes, fewer hospital admissions, fewer visits to the GP and less social care support than their peers.
Supported housing costs £6.17 billion, but it delivers savings estimated at £3.5 billion. For older residents living in sheltered housing, there is an annual saving in reduced reliance on health and social care services of around £3,000 per year; for people with learning disabilities or mental health issues, the savings are estimated at between £12,500 and £15,500 a year. Those are not punitive savings delivered by budget cuts, but positive savings delivered through better outcomes.
It was, therefore, very hard to comprehend why the Government decided more than a year ago to throw the entire supported housing sector into disarray by announcing that core rent and service charges would be funded only up to the level of the local housing allowance cap, and that costs above that would be funded via a devolved fund administered by local authorities. The sector has been in total disarray now for more than a year, during which time 85% of new supported housing schemes have been put on hold, and many providers have been considering the financial sustainability of their existing supported housing provision.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement this afternoon that the local housing allowance cap will not now apply to supported housing, but it is extraordinary that the Government have left the sector in such a state of uncertainty for so long, and that they have now come forward with an announcement that is only partial, and that does not set out either what the new approach to funding supported housing will be, or where the funding will come from. It is really important that the Government recognise the damage that the uncertainty of the past year has caused to the sector. The Select Committees recorded our concern that the Government seemed unaware—this was despite being presented with undeniable evidence—of both the severe impact their announcement was having on the sector and the urgency of the need to resolve these issues. I should like the Secretary of State to apologise for that, and to set out what the Government will do to repair the damage and to ensure that schemes that were put on hold as a consequence of the announcement get back on track as quickly as possible. It is really important that the Government set out in detail their plans, giving both Parliament and the sector an opportunity to scrutinise how the new funding arrangements will work.
In my last minute, I will mention two further recommendations of the joint inquiry. The first concerns the urgent need to address the shortfall in provision, which was made worse by the chaos of the past year. The Committees recommended that the Government establish grant funding for new supported housing provision. I would welcome it if the Government were to provide confirmation today that they are taking that recommendation seriously.
The second area concerns refuges for survivors of domestic abuse. It was the Committees’ view that the Government should put in place funding and commissioning arrangements to ensure that there is a national network of domestic abuse refuges and to guarantee that support is there for the 12,000 women and 12,000 children who flee to a refuge every year in the UK. I hope to hear those reassurances from the Minister, and to read in detail next week that the Government have indeed taken seriously the recommendations of the Select Committees.
I will endeavour to be brief. First, let me thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and the Select Committee members for all their work on this issue.
It was a qualified relief to hear earlier that the Government have, to some extent, listened to sense and will not be going ahead with their original plans to restrict the funding for supported housing to LHA rates only. Many have already talked about the impacts that the original changes would have had on their constituencies. Certainly I calculated that, within Oxford East, we would have seen around a third of supported housing provision wiped out because the LHA rates are around a third below the average private rental cost. That would obviously have had a very negative impact on my constituency.
One point that has not come up so far is the need for any future funding solution to be ring-fenced. There was a difficult situation with another relevant funding stream, Supporting People funding. Some hon. Members have touched on that, although they did not name it per se. Supporting People funding was devolved to an extent, but it was not ring-fenced. Many local authority areas, including my area of Oxford, which is covered by Oxfordshire County Council, have faced the removal of all support for facilities such as homeless shelters. That has resulted in a reduction of about half of all shelter places—that is an accurate headcount—for homeless people in places such as Oxford in a time of record levels of rough sleeping.
We need to ensure that any future funding system is locally responsive, potentially reflecting regional costs, as many have advocated and as the Joint Select Committee report suggested. But we should also ensure that the funding is ring-fenced, because we really do not want it to leach away into other areas when local authorities are under such enormous pressure owing to cuts from central Government.
Many speakers have said that there is no relationship between the local housing allowance and the cost of supported housing. Of course that is the case, but it is also the case that in many areas the LHA bears very little relation to private rented costs per se. In my city of Oxford there are no—none, zero—family homes that are affordable under the current LHA. Home rental websites show that there is not a single one. I hope that the Government’s reflection, albeit a rather tardy one, on supported housing will lead them to think more carefully about the nature of calculation of the LHA for all rented accommodation.
I, too, welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today. It is, of course, a U-turn and the details need to be seen before the final judgment is out. Future proposals must be fair and compassionate, and should not be an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
Supported housing covers a range of different housing types, but what is shared across all tenants—whether in Bath or across the country—is that they are in supported housing because they need support, and that support needs proper funding. There should not be the crass geographical differences that the previous proposals assumed. I hope that tenants will be at the forefront of the Government’s future proposals. Rent levels in supported housing are understandably higher than in other social housing. The now abandoned plans for top-up funding were a passing of responsibility from the Government to local authorities, which are already overstretched and underfunded. This must not be the case with future proposals, as it is not a sustainable and guaranteed way of funding supported housing.
The Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee, backed by many of the supported housing industry’s organisations, have called for a supported housing allowance to give providers more certainty. I really believe that that is the way forward. It was precisely the uncertainty surrounding the cap that led to reports of housing associations cutting 85% of supported housing development after the proposals were announced. The numbers of those sleeping rough has already risen by 60% since March 2011, according to the National Audit Office. The NAO report repeatedly criticised the Government’s lack of cohesion in tackling homelessness, and the cap was merely a symptom of the disease. The Government must take a broader, more connected approach to all these issues.
I have already mentioned the issue of national disparities. Tenants should not face a postcode lottery, and that was a crucial concern of many providers before the cap proposals. I call on the Prime Minister to reverse the decision to scrap housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds. This policy only serves to push more young people into homelessness. People deserve a roof over their heads, whatever their age and wherever they live. These unfair disadvantages must end.
Finally, I call on the Government simply to give more funding for supported housing. Many of the existing problems caused by a complete lack of funding will remain, despite scrapping the cap. To starve supported housing of cash is to punish all those for whom life is already very hard.
I welcome the announcement made by the Prime Minister at lunchtime and the assurances from the Minister in his speech. I give thanks to Members on both sides of the House for their work—in Select Committees and individually—in pushing forward these issues, and especially to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), whose Westminster Hall debate I attended on 10 October.
As colleagues have said, the Government need to recognise the impact of their policies on long-term sustainable funding for supported housing. I would like to emphasise the supported aspect of that housing, and we have heard many moving stories from Members on both sides of the House about the amazing work organisations in their constituencies do. That work is done by individuals who are often working on the minimum wage with some of our most vulnerable citizens and in some of the most difficult and patience-trying jobs we could imagine. This is really a vocation, not just a job, but those working in supported accommodation at the moment unfortunately often earn only the minimum wage. I really hope the Government will look at making sure that the funding supports quality of provision, as well as quality of employment and real careers for people who support those in supported housing.
May I propose one method of moving forward that will actually assist with the cost? I live in northern Derbyshire, in an area where we have a multitude of small borough councils, each with its own housing area. People in supported housing often wish to move into socially rented accommodation outside the area. That is particularly the case for women fleeing domestic violence—it is very important for them that they do not end up in the same community with the same problems. When the Minister looks at the new scheme, will he therefore see whether it will be possible for people in supported housing to apply to move into social housing and to get support in a different borough? That would save money, assist people and help free up places. At the moment, there are women in refuges in my constituency who would love to move over the border to where they have more support from friends and family, but they cannot do so, because they do not qualify for social housing in that area. I hope Ministers will look at that.
The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who is not in his place, said new Members often seem not to understand the importance of working across the House, but I can assure him that, as a new Member, I absolutely do. I have just sent out to all Members an email about an all-party group on universal credit. I very much hope that we can all come together, look at our experiences in our constituencies and work to get some movement on that issue as well.
While I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today that the local housing allowance cap will be lifted, I fear that the damage has already been done to supported housing providers, including women’s refuges.
I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips): housing benefit is vital to women’s refuges. As non-profit organisations, they rely on the rental income from the women who stay with them to fund their services. However, LHA is set in line with the lowest 30% of market rents in a given area, and the rates will often not even meet the refuge’s rent charges, let alone provide the additional funds needed to maintain specialist emergency accommodation. The capping of LHA led to uncertainty and fear for women’s refuges, which are designed specifically to keep women safe and to offer them shelter and support until they can live independently without the threat of violence.
This morning, I spoke to Mary Mason of Solace Women’s Aid, which is a fantastic organisation that runs a women’s refuge in my constituency and in other areas of London. She told me that women seeking help in the refuge she runs face the most appalling danger and have been forced into homelessness. She further told me that any decrease in funding, including through the LHA cap, would have a very negative impact on women and children in danger. It was therefore entirely inappropriate that services like the Solace women’s refuge should have been subject to the LHA cap.
While I welcome today’s announcement from the Prime Minister about the lifting of the LHA cap, I await the detail next week and hope that all vulnerable people in supported housing receive the funding they so desperately need.
This has been a comprehensive debate with many good contributions from all parts of the House, if probably more so from the Opposition. There has been a cautious welcome for the Prime Minister’s announcement that there will not be a cap in relation to supported housing and LHA—an issue of real concern.
Among the 25 speakers were my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)—the Chair of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government —and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods). A lot of people identified that it was completely inappropriate in the first place to propose that supported housing should be based on an LHA rate given that it meets very different needs. Several key themes emerged. On the need for sustainability around the funding, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) mentioned the importance of ring-fencing it, and the need for greater co-operation between Departments. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who organised the Westminster Hall debate on this issue a few weeks ago, has probably contributed to the position that we are in now.
Many Members wanted to thank local providers and charities. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) said that what providers do is more of a vocation—that they do it out of love for it. However, we cannot take advantage of that, and we must recognise it in the support that we give them.
Welcome as the Government’s U-turn is, does my hon. Friend agree that their change of mind barely scratches the surface of the overall crisis in the provision of supported and affordable housing?
I will come on to that. Obviously, we look forward to seeing the detail next Tuesday, but yes, we must not underestimate what is happening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) always makes very pertinent points, but I would like to pick out her comments about Government policy contributing to potentially driving people into refuges because they have no financial support through the single householder.
It is so important that we have had this debate on supported housing after years of uncertainty from this Government hanging over the heads of some of our most vulnerable tenants. The Government’s announcement earlier today is therefore welcome. I want to reaffirm a point that others have made in the course of the debate. The term “supported housing” covers accommodation for a number of different groups in our society, but one thing that binds them all is the degree of vulnerability of these tenants. This form of housing supports older people in sheltered accommodation, disabled people and those with learning disabilities, people at high risk of homelessness, and survivors of domestic violence and their children, as well as armed service veterans, care leavers, and ex-offenders. The importance of what is provided through supported housing cannot therefore be overestimated.
The Government have asked those groups to wait for nearly two years to find out whether their accommodation is secure. Although, as I say, we welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today indicating that LHA will not be extended to the social or supported housing sectors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) was exactly right to say that the devil is in the detail. He cautioned that whatever comes out of next week’s statement, it must recognise not just that there has been a two-year hiatus for the supported housing sector, but that cuts of half a billion pounds are coming down the line in 2021. We need to have the detail about those proposals, which were in the Red Book and autumn statement last year.
We wait with bated breath, alongside the 700,000 people currently using housing support, to see the adequacy of the supported housing deal. The new deal must recognise that the uncertainty has had an impact on the sector’s capacity by undermining providers’ ability to build. Government inaction has resulted in an 85% reduction in supported housing development, at a time when there is already a shortfall of nearly 17,000 supported housing units. That means that those who one day might need such provision will not have it. I recently visited a refuge that looks after women and children fleeing domestic abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley has said, people are being turned away. It is important that we recognise the inadequacy of current provision.
When the Government finally publish their statement on the new approach to supported housing next week, I hope that they will recognise the design flaws in universal credit, which make it totally incompatible with the needs of people who are reliant on supported housing. I am pleased that the Government are bringing to an end the uncertainty about supported housing. I hope that they will also think again about the many other universal credit issues and agree to pause it while we work to fix it.
Over a year ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to help the worst-off among us, but there has not been a single achievement. In many cases, including this one, progress has stalled. We could point to the Government’s slashing of funding for affordable homes, the withdrawal of housing benefit from young people or the reductions in local housing allowance for private tenants, which are making sections of the country into places where low-income families simply cannot live. All those measures are short-term attempts to balance the books on the back of the most vulnerable. None of them addresses the root cause of the problem, which is the Government’s total failure to build enough affordable and social homes to meet people’s needs. That problem was recognised by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, although seemingly not by his Chancellor.
I am pleased that today’s statement suggests that the Government are considering the recommendations made jointly by the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee on the future of supported housing. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) on their contribution to that work.
After all, the independent Committees’ report, which was drafted and agreed by Members from all parties, found that supported housing delivered excellent value for money and significant cost savings to the wider public sector, while maximising quality of life. They agreed with us that the Government must introduce a long-term and sustainable funding settlement, but raised concerns about previous proposals to extend the LHA. The Committees jointly suggested that the local housing allowance rate is not an appropriate place to start when determining the funding settlement. There is no correlation, as we have heard, between the cost of providing supported housing and local housing allowances.
Labour supports the Committees’ calls to introduce a new supported housing allowance set at a rate higher than the current cap. Alongside that, we need a separate funding system to safeguard short-term and emergency accommodation, including women’s refuges, and we must ensure that any new funding model does not threaten future supply of supported housing. We will hold the Government to account on their delivery of a new funding model. The next steps are laid out before the Government, and I hope that in their statement next week, they will commit to taking those steps. They should end this two-year impasse now, or stand aside and allow a Labour Government to get on with the job.
I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue. We have heard from a huge number of colleagues on both sides of the Chamber. I thank them all for their really valuable contributions, as well as for their support for this essential sector and their individual stories, particularly those drawing attention to the work—we all understand that it is incredible valuable—that is done by the suppliers of supported housing and sheltered accommodation in their constituencies.
I want to emphasise the importance that the Government attach to supported housing. It plays a vital role for many vulnerable people, as so many Members have said. It gives them a safe and supportive place where they can live as independently as possible. The Government are keen to ensure that those living in supported accommodation and those who provide this type of housing receive appropriate payment and protections. We also want building and further development in this sector to meet the projected future demand and ensure we can offer supported housing provision to those who need it.
That is why we have announced today that the local housing allowance cap will not be applied to social sector tenants, including those living in supported housing. It is absolutely essential—for providers, commissioners and vulnerable tenants, as well as for taxpayers—that we put the supported housing sector funding model on a sustainable footing and ensure that it works for all. We will announce our proposals for supported housing next week, and I hope these will show that we have listened to what people and organisations have said and that we have understood the issues.
Will the Minister give an assurance that the YMCA, the largest charitable provider of young people’s supported housing, which has expressed lots of concerns, has been given a full hearing and that its suggestions have been taken fully on board in the review?
A lot of comments have been made about how long it has taken to get to this point, but that is because we have spoken extensively with valuable stakeholders such as the YMCA. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) told us about the incredible value of that organisation and others.
As has been said, the DWP, in conjunction with the DCLG, concluded a 12-week consultation on the supported housing sector earlier this year. As many Members have rightly suggested, it is absolutely vital that we listen to the concerns that the sector has raised, and that is precisely what we have been doing. We welcome the input that we have received in this consultation—the views of the sector, local government and other stakeholders—as well as the excellent joint report from the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee. I add my congratulations to both Committees on their work. We have been carefully taking stock of these views, considering the recommendations and continuing our extensive conversation with the sector. We have done so to make sure that we get the detail right before making an announcement and that the services provided are as good as they can be.
This morning’s announcement by the Prime Minister has already been embraced by the sector, which has acknowledged that we are listening to their concerns. The chief executive of the National Housing Federation has said:
“Things are really starting to change and it is great to see social housing getting the right kind of attention it deserves.”
The chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing has also welcomed the announcement, suggesting that the Government have
“clearly listened to the concerns of housing professionals across the UK”.
Several Members have raised concerns about how confidence in future funding is having an impact on the supply of supported housing. As I believe has been made very clear during this debate, we are absolutely determined to achieve our goal of ensuring a long-term sustainable future for the whole supported housing sector. Indeed, the National Housing Federation has welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent announcements on housing, which demonstrate that social housing and house building are firmly at the top of the Government’s agenda.
We understand that the sector needs certainty to help it to continue to plan and deliver much-needed new supported housing, including sheltered housing for older people. We need to inject confidence into a sector that is in need of clarity about the future arrangements and to reignite the stalled supply as soon as possible. However, it was vital not to be too hasty or rushed in reaching this decision. We have taken time to get things right and to take into account voices from the sector to ensure that this is sustainable in the long term and protects those who are most vulnerable and who most need our support.
The Government have a good track record in safeguarding supported housing and boosting new supply. Since 2011, we have delivered 27,000 units of specialist and general housing for disabled, vulnerable and older people. We announced £400 million of funding in the spending review to deliver new specialist affordable homes for the vulnerable, elderly or those with disabilities. In addition, there will be more specialised homes funded by the Department of Health.
In my area of Newcastle-under-Lyme, our local housing association, Aspire, is not building affordable or supported housing at all. It is developing in higher property price areas in Cheshire to recycle the money to support its existing estates because of the squeeze on its finances and income from Government policies. Is there not something fundamentally wrong when a local housing association cannot build affordable housing at all?
That flies in the face of what the National Housing Federation said; the Government are giving confidence to suppliers to build into the future.
As my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) said, we recognise and celebrate the diversity of the supported housing sector and we are reflecting this in the design of the reformed funding model. We want to ensure that the model is flexible and responsive to meet the variety of needs and demands placed on it for such a diverse sector and client base. Across the Government, we have considered the needs of all supported housing groups, including those with learning difficulties, physical and sensory disabilities and mental health problems, older people and those experiencing homelessness and seeking refuge from domestic abuse. We are working hard to ensure that the funding model reflects the unique range of provision in the supported housing sector, and we are listening to the sector to make sure we get that right. I believe that that will be seen in our response to the consultation, and we have always been clear that we are committed to developing a separate model that will work for short-term accommodation.
I want to address some of the concerns raised today about short-term supported and emergency housing such as hostels and refuges, which play a vital role in providing consistent, high-quality support for many vulnerable people who have experienced or are experiencing a crisis, such as fleeing domestic abuse. That was mentioned by a number of Members from all parties. We have always been very clear that we are committed to developing a separate funding model that will work well for people requiring help from these types of accommodation. As a former Minister for Equalities, I carry on my passion for tackling domestic abuse, which is a key priority for this Government.
We fully support the valuable work carried out by women’s refuges and other supported accommodation providers, and we are fully committed to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are not turned away from the support that they need. Since 2014, we have invested £33.5 million in services to support victims and the number of beds for victims of domestic violence has gone up. I want to be unambiguous about this: everyone who uses short-term supported and emergency housing such as hostels and refuges and who is eligible to have their housing costs met by housing benefit under the current system will continue to have these costs met through any new funding model for short-term accommodation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North mentioned the YMCA setting, social enterprises and adopting to change. We welcomed his valuable and characteristically positive addition to the debate, and that is exactly the kind of innovative and flexible approach that the Government promote. It is absolutely right that we should do our best in government to listen to and support the sector, but we should also take the opportunity to recognise the tireless work and groundbreaking approaches, such as that which he identified today.
We have listened to the views of the sector on sheltered and extra care housing through its response to our consultation, through its participation in our task and finish groups and through its involvement in the joint work of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Committees. We have heard the concerns that it has raised, and it is clear that an alternative model is required to secure supply. The Government recognise that supported housing helps many vulnerable people to stand on their own feet and lead independent lives. We have done a lot of work to understand the needs of individuals who live in long-term supported housing. We are committed to protecting and boosting the provision of supported and older people’s sheltered housing and to ensuring we get the new model right to ensure that that housing is funded sustainably in the long term.
The Government are clear that everyone who would be eligible under the current system to have their supported housing costs met by housing benefit will continue to have their housing costs met under the new funding model. We are committed to protecting provision of supported and older people’s sheltered housing to ensure that we get the new model right and that funding for supported housing is sustainable.
The Government’s intention is to find the best means to deliver improvements in quality, oversight and value for money, while recognising the need to give appropriate consideration to the concerns raised by the sector through the consultation and the Select Committees. I can confirm that we will be able to announce the plans for supported housing next week and answer many more of the questions that hon. Members have raised. I am convinced that, when the announcement is made, it will be clear that we have listened and properly consulted and considered the concerns of all.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on the Government to halt its current plans to cap, at the local housing allowance rate, help with housing costs for tenants of supported housing and to adopt instead a system which safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported housing, building on the recommendations of the First Joint Report of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Committees of Session 2016-17, Future of supported housing, HC 867.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. After the Prime Minister made an announcement at Prime Minister’s questions, ahead of our Opposition day debate today, that the Government will drop their plans for a crude cap and cuts to supported housing, have you or Mr Speaker had any indication that Ministers, when they make the full announcement next week, which the Minister has just mentioned, will come and make the announcement to the House with an oral statement? In the light of the unanimous support for our motion tonight and the widespread concern about the Government’s plans over the past two years on both sides of the House and across the sector, it is clearly really important that Members can question Ministers on the announcement in full that they make.
The one thing we can be sure of is that I have been given no notice that anybody is coming forward and I do not think Mr Speaker will have been given notice at this stage. What I would say is that the right hon. Gentleman has certainly put on record his concerns. His views and opinions have been recorded. As he would expect, it is not for the Chair to look at the decision on the vote. That is a matter for the House and certainly not the Chair.