As Programme for Government negotiations continue, a broad coalition of charities is demonstrating for an immediate 10% increase in funding for Supporting People services to protect many of Northern Irelands most vulnerable people. It is also asking the new Northern Ireland Executive to prioritise assisting people with specific needs to live independently.
Helm Housing staff joined a group of around 100 charitable providers of Supporting People (SP) services, and SP service users, who gathered at Stormont on Wednesday morning (11th May) to press their case in a public demonstration.
, a £74m p.a. Housing Executive
programme, enables more than 20,000 vulnerable people to live as independently as possible. Beneficiaries include frail older people, homeless people and people with learning disabilities. People can receive support in a hostel, in sheltered housing or in other types of supported housing accommodation, as well as their own family homes.
Independent research (NICVA/SITRA) demonstrates that for every £1.00 spent, Supporting People produces £1.90 in net financial benefits for the Northern Ireland Executive by reducing the need for health, care and other public services.
In spite of this, the programme has been denied adequate funding. Funding for Supporting People projects has been frozen for a ninth consecutive year in 2016/17, a real-terms cut of over 25%. This now threatens the quality and viability of services, and could lead to a crisis akin to that in parts of the residential care sector.
To avoid this, the coalition is calling for the new NI Executive to immediately increase funding to Supporting People projects by a minimum of 10% to cover steeply rising costs such as the new National Living Wage
Beyond this, the charities are calling for the new Programme for Government to prioritise helping people with specific needs to live independently. Adequate funding for the housing support and domiciliary care necessary to achieve this must follow. These recommendations are line with the preventative direction the NI Executive wishes to move towards, such as in the Transforming Your Care blueprint for health and social care reform.
Ricky Rowledge, Chief Executive of Council for the Homeless NI (CHNI), said:
Homelessness services are particularly dependent on SP funding and as such have been particularly affected by the continuing budget freeze. If the budget is not increased by at least 10% the result will be closures and more very vulnerable people at risk of rooflessness or living in highly unsuitable temporary accommodation options. The cost to health, education, criminal justice and employment will be high.
Jim Dennison, Chief Executive of Simon Community NI said:
Supporting People allows us to provide lifesaving and life changing services for our clients. We work with thousands of people across Northern Ireland each year and without Supporting People funding we simply wouldnt be able to provide that service.
In the last number of months weve seen the tragic death of five individuals on the streets of Belfast. Unfortunately we see death on an all too regular basis here. We see suicide, self-harm, ill mental and physical health. Supporting People allows us to help those individuals. Any cut to Supporting People means we wont be able to provide that service and more people will die.
Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) said:
Supporting People services transform the lives of vulnerable people, including frail elderly people, homeless people, and people with disabilities and mental health issues. By enabling people to live with the maximum independence in the community, it also reduces pressure on health, care and other public services, saving the NI Executive tens of millions of pounds every year.
Transforming Your Care is the right vision for reforming our health system, but it can only be achieved with proper investment in supported housing options in the community. This means a minimum 10% uplift in Supporting People project funding, and adequate investment in domiciliary care. Lets make sure that the new Programme for Government prioritises support to let vulnerable people flourish.