Challenging Government’s housing and welfare policy

ALL involved in all forms of housing need to find better ways of challenging Government housing policy.  Let’s have a demo or rally or let’s blow off some steam in a blog or newspaper article is simply not enough and have proven to be not effective.

Some housing decisions have been taken to judicial review too yet largely without success and there is also the all too often apathetic or self-interested only strategies of politicians and housing associations which have also failed.

The LHA maxima policy of this Government highlights all of the above and goes beyond politics and self-interest when it close all DV refuges, all types of homeless hostels and all housing and support / care provisions for sheltered housing and the supported living model which caters for vulnerable persons with mental health or disability issues.

This is seminal change and radical change and one simple question proves the point – If there are no refuges where will women and children fleeing violence and abuse go?

The current answer to that is nowhere and they will stay at home to receive more violence and abuse and in all likelihood many more will die as a result of a superficial cost-cutting exercise that will end up costing far more in any case as the numbers show and numbers don’t lie unlike Government ministers.

numberjumble

Having spent the past 15 years advising organisations from housing associations to small independent and specialist charities who operate all forms of supported housing I could write reams about the amorality of the LHA maxima policy and also give extremely detailed financial justifications for all types of supported housing services.  Yet that too is not enough.

Even the most niche expert analyses backed up with irrefutable economic and financial arguments that the existing models of provision such as refuges for example are the best possible is still not enough.  We need to even go beyond expert evidence bases and especially as the LHA maxima policy is not part of any legislative Bill that can be scrutinised and can be introduced by Government dictat without any scrutiny whatsoever by statutory instrument.

We – and I will come onto who ‘we’ means – need to find better ways to challenge when Government of any political persuasion rules by dictat and superficial dictat as in this case.

challenge

If there are no refuges where will women and children fleeing violence and abuse go?

Yesterday I illustrated that the LHA maxima policy typically sees a 62% reduction in housing benefit funding for a DV refuge and means closure of all of them.  That point still needs to be hammered home as closure IS inevitable and the closing of all DV refuges is NOT disputable in any shape or form.  It is an inevitability.

Adopt a simple PEST analysis and we see the Political arguments are of extreme sensitivity and rightly, yet the challenge becomes one of you can’t possibly be thinking of closing DV refuges and little else.  Let’s all make a huge fuss and the Government is sure to back down strategy yet that does not work and when we look at the evidence did not work with the Tax Credits issue a few months back which has not gone away, it is just delayed until Universal Credit rolls out and then comes back.

That Political form of challenge does not work and other agendas such as Opposition MPs embarrassing the government of the day takes a greater role with the venal MPs.  The strategy becomes more of lets play political point scoring games rather than preserving the necessity and principle of refuge provision.

Economic – Between 37 and 47 incidences of violence and abuse occur before a woman or Mother takes the courageous decision to flee violence and abuse and other well known statistics say DV provision saves the public purse £13 for every £1 spent on it.  Those 37 – 47 incidences prior to fleeing all cost the NHS, social services and the Police and taking away refuge provision will only see the number of incidence and costs increase.  That is a very simple argument in financial terms which reveals that the DV refuge model is very cost-effective, yet that baby is being thrown out with the bath water.

Yet the financial superficiality of the LHA maxima is more easily explained by the Supported Living Model (SLM) which is operated for vulnerable persons with mental health issues as one example of many.

Prior to Thatcher’s Community Care Act they lived in disempowering institutionalised establishments under the registered care model and in today’s terms easily costing £1000 per week and all of those costs fell to local councils.

The SLM change meant overall weekly costs reduced to £500 per week – a halving of total cost -and of that £500 per week £250 was paid for through housing benefit which comes ultimately from central government and the other £250 per week from local council care budgets.

The LHA maxima change will remove the SLM option and mean costs will increase back up to £1000 per week and all payable from local council budgets – a quadrupling of the current £250 per week cost – while significantly central government achieves a saving by paying as little as £67 per week instead of £250 in housing benefit.

Yet where is the outcry on this from local councils and bearing in mind this affects all local councils including Tory run ones?  The silence is deafening from local government lobbies such as the LGA and ASSD and bizarrely so. Why?  And what about the new Care Act budget holders in health and social care who are going to have to pay out hugely increased costs and have markedly fewer options as the SLM model is no longer viable?

Is the complexity of the argument as illustrated by SLM cost and cost apportionment too difficult to fit into the soundbite politics we have? Probably yes.

Socially – DV provision is seen as deserving while say hostel provision for sex-offenders or mentally disordered offenders is seen as undeserving by comparison – an old argument yet still an important one in supported housing provision.  Whether it is LA or other commissioning bodies or the general public the DV refuge provision always takes priority for societal reasons.  Yet on an economic dimension the same £250 per week of housing benefit saves massively more and perhaps £3,000 per week more to the public purse than a refuge does and so even the most undeserving supported housing services have a clear rationale.

Technologically? – Unless we find a way to give drones a human brain the IT improvements are limited even to the many who believe that any technological improvement must better efficiency.  Do Sinclair C5 vehicles rust or just disintegrate?  DV saw some ‘technological’ change when the powers that be decided on principled grounds that it was wrong for the victim to flee and so created sanctuary schemes and a mini industry in IDVAs and other services which frankly are less effective and cost more to the public purse than refuge provision.

The seemingly right premise that the perpetrator should be made to flee and not the victim or survivor has led to an inferior service and safety level and increased cost.  It has also seen the old Best Value Indicator of one refuge space per 10,000 population fall by 40%.  The UK population of 65 million should have 6,500 refuge places yet it has around 3,900 or just 60% of the Best Value minimum.

Best Value – we all remember that and it was THE central issue of social policy in the public sector – and was referred to as the 4 C’s one of which was CHALLENGE.

If there are no refuges where will women and children fleeing violence and abuse go?

That central question is still there and to avoid that inevitability we all need to challenge the LHA maxima policy and time to discuss what I mean by the “we.”

As in all thought through and successful challenges the “we” is those most affected by it, those who will lose the most and despite talking about supported housing it is NOT housing providers such as housing associations who do lose the most.

Housing Associations in the main provide the buildings but not the service and the service users and service operators and local councils are the ones who will lose the most.  HA’s will get the refuge buildings back and can re-provision them for other uses so their loss is both mitigated and temporary.

Yet service users, the women and children who need to flee violence and abuse, have no mitigation and no provision in which to flee and for them this is a permanent change as refuges will not re-open as the model is non-financially viable – just as it is for Foyers and homeless hostels and the Supported Living Model is non-financially viable for those with mental health or disability needs.

Service operators are often small independent charities whose sole rationale and basis is to deliver refuge services or homeless services and they will fold and again disappear.  For example the vast majority of all refuge services are run by small charities who then affiliate to the national organisation called Women’s Aid by subscription.  So those charities will fold yet also put Women’s Aid as an organisation in sever financial difficulties due to this loss of subscription income.

Similarly each YMCA is a separate entity (YMCA Liverpool, YMCA Crewe, etc) and each local service will close which then gives financial exposure to the national YMCA organisation.  Is it any coincidence that the YWCA used to provide very similar homeless hostel provision to the YMCA yet we never hear of the YWCA any more do we?

Local councils are going to be inundated with additional mandatory duties and huge additional costs due to the closure of all forms of supported housing provision and think back on my proportion of costs illustration above with regards to the SLM for mental health service users and put that in the context of a recent article in the Guardian saying that Liverpool – the city – will possibly go bankrupt in 2017 due to 58% funding cuts already experienced from central government funding and one very pertinent issue arises which I quote:

When Anderson became leader of the authority in 2010, two years before he became mayor, it was spending £222m a year on adult social care services. Today, it spends £172m. By 2017, it will be £150m – a further cut that, he says, will mean reducing the number of people receiving care packages from 15,000 now to 9,000.

Liverpool council’s plan is to reduce care packages from 15,000 to 9,000 and to save £72 million per year by doing so in order to balance the books.  YET the very same Liverpool City Council will see massive increases, not reductions, in the number of care cases AND a huge increase in the cost of each one.

The SLM example I illustrated above sees the council no longer paying £250 in care costs per week it sees them paying £1000 per week in care costs a quadrupling of cost as that is the INEVITABLE consequence of the LHA maxima policy.  That same increased number and increased average cost of each care case will apply in the most right-wing Tory council too so this is not a political matter but an apolitical and financial one.

That brings me back to the central question of who are the “we” who need to challenge this amoral and economically bankrupt policy.

Local government and all 340+ English councils and all 54 Scottish and Welsh councils need to challenge this LHA maxima policy as do a myriad of small specialist independent charities who deliver and operate supported housing services and bolstered by the general public.  If 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence and abuse and 1 in 4 adults experience mental health issues – which are both well known and used statistics – then we all know someone who has experienced domestic violence and abuse or has a mental health support need.

Your sister, daughter, mother, niece, granddaughter and their male equivalents are all affected by this amoral and economically bankrupt policy.  We all know someone who is or has been or will be affected and it’s a case of there for the Grace of God go I.

I will leave you with one final and unashamedly emotive scenario that is unfortunately all too typical.  Imagine you are a Mother subjected to countless previous incidences of violence and abuse and you have met up and talked a few times with DV outreach workers over a cup of tea in a cafe in a supermarket.  On top of the physical nature of violence and abuse you are traumatised by the notion of fleeing, how will this impact on the children, will thy have to move schools, how will that affect their education and life chances, will they think worse of me for abandoning their father whom they love and perhaps they are not aware of the violence and abuse…

… and then the DV outreach worker says your 13 year old son cannot access the refuge and so if you flee you will have to break up your family and male teenagers are mostly not allowed to reside at refuges.

You don’t need to be a Mother to understand what an unbelievably courageous decision it is for any Mother to up and flee and escape violence and abuse.  It is a harrowing one and a decision that would challenge the rational mind of anyone never mind a woman whose head is battered with the options of stay and carry on being abused or go and hurt her children’s lives.

But hey these refuges are costly says this Government so who gives a shit and we all have to tighten our belts – pun intended and not – and all those who receive benefit are scroungers and an unacceptable burden on the hard working taxpayer, blah, blah, fucking blah!

Emotive?  Damned right and I did say that the closure of all refuges needs to be hammered home and it does – as does the closure of all supported housing services which is what the LHA maxima policy does.  Yet just who is going to challenge this policy remains the issue and one that we have to find the answer to as quickly as we can.

We need to isolate the Government on one side of the fence and have Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all on the other side.  The general public, the supported housing professional, the social worker, probation worker, the criminal justice professional and the entire National Health Service and the Police Federation. All of those are massively adversely affected by this policy yet how do they come together and challenge the policy?

Since I revealed the consequences and impacts of the policy I have had scores of conversations with those who run supported housing services and with every vulnerable client group.  Each one starts with the response of they (Government) can’t possibly do this and shock and horror then quickly turns to an admission that there is no alternative model of provision as for example 100% dispersed DV or homeless or other provision cannot work, and then to a we must do something about this, we must challenge this position.

So what is that challenge and who takes it up?

Nobody has an answer to this, yet, if indeed there is any answer other than the Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all generic answer above.  For almost ten years from 2003 I was the ‘go-to’ person for supported housing providers across the country when their local councils sought to remodel or decommission their support services and I was very successful in challenging these often superficial decisions and would then find a better alternative way to provide better services from the same funding base.

Yet despite being creative and innovative, even if that meant pinching ideas from elsewhere and adapting which was often the case, I can see no financially viable reconfiguration or remodelling of the vast majority of support services to include the LHA maxima.  Naturally I am beating myself up over this as I have that (hopefully necessary?) arrogant streak that says there must be a way…yet despite losing many hours of sleep and despite widespread conversations with the collective brainpower of many highly respected and knowledgeable colleagues and clients, there are no alternative models of provision.  It is shit or bust.

All that is left is challenge and we all need to find a better way to do that and consign this amoral and economically bankrupt LHA maxima policy to the bin where it belongs.

 

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Here is the DV refuge example I reproduce from the earlier post that reveals the 62% HB funding cut and inevitable closure

lhamaximadvrefuge example

And of course common or garden sheltered housing as this reveals – a £2,600 per year cut to pensioner housing in low rent Liverpool

lhamaximashelteredliverpool

Yes that’s £50 per week housing benefit cut to the pensioner and this will effect perhaps 9% of the 6,000+ pensioners in sheltered housing in Liverpool (new cases per year) or about £1.4 million per year and on 4 April 2018 that 1080 pensioners at £2,600 or £2.8 million of a HB cut.  I see Liverpool City Council paying this out of their £1.7m DHP budgets as well as a few white rabbits and doves too!

And the current recipients of this £1.7m DHP pot – yes nothing for bedroom tax or benefit cap or LHA capped households or for rent deposits or for…ah you get the picture!

 

 

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