SP Mark2? An Omenous announcement from DWP


An early picture of Damian Green the Minister at DWP who is so aptly named.

Lets adopt a lessons learned approach is one of those phrases often preceded with let’s draw a line in the sand and in simple terms means code for (a) ok you’ve got us bang to rights but (b) officially we can’t admit fault, and (c) I know you understand this code, so (d) let’s move on and sort out the mess that we can’t accept we made but know we did!

From April 2003 up until 2011/12 about 95% of my work was challenging local councils who were commissioners of support in the old Supporting People (SP) programme and sought to take away support funding from clients and Let’s draw a line in the sand and adopt a lessons learned approach Joe was said to me weekly if not daily, and especially before 2009 when the irresponsible decision of the then Labour government to take away the SP ringfence was made thus leaving support providers with next to no challenges to councils taking away their funding.

Now we are told we are about to have SP Mark 2 in a ring-fenced cash-limited pot that comprises the money taking off supported housing services in HB through the LHA maxima cap administered by local council commissioners.

I was going to change my moniker of Speye Joe (Joe keeping an eye on SP is its derivation) yet now it is becoming very apt once more and the big question that arises is …Will we truly learn from the mistakes of Supporting People?  To which my answer, regrettably, is that it is highly unlikely!

The first huge issue is the size of this cash-limited pot.  The size of this appears to have already been determined by the IPSOS MORI review upon reading the LHA maxima statement from Damian Green.

A funding pot that comprises the HB cut from supported housing services yet does NOT include the HB that will be cut from all of the sheltered housing services that are not supported housing.

Let me simplify that point and imagine there are 100 services in the UK that will face a cut in their housing benefit due to the LHA maxima policy.  Let’s also say the amount cut is £10 per week.  That is a £1,000 per week HB cut.  Yet only 80 of those 100 services are classed as supported housing (exempt or specified) and so the pot will only be £800 per week – the 80 supported housing services at £10 per week – and we will see a £1000 per week cut in HB from which there will only be £800 per week to mitigate – a 20% shortfall.

And that is only the beginning of this tragedy and lack of lessons learned.

This pot then becomes the responsibility of local council commissioners to administer, or to choose who gets this money and who does not and so when we see the CEOs of YMCA, Women’s Aid and Refuge all welcoming the alleged and part exemptions from SAR and expecting with surety that they will get the HB cut from this SP Mark2 pot, they are (a) mistaken, and (b) much greater risks to funding exist which (c) threatens all supported housing provision.

What a lessons learned approach would reveal, as in true empiricism, is that local council commissioners have a pecking order in what they choose to commission.  The pot will be ring-fenced and who gets what is the local council’s decision and young single homeless services such as YMCA and other providers are always near the bottom of that commissioning pecking order.

At the top of that pecking order will be services that if the council does support will see those same councils reduce their in-house alternate cost, in short those services for whom councils have a mandatory care funding element such as mental health, learning disability and extra care sheltered.

The more funding that a council gives such services in ‘support’ funding then the less they have to find from their in-house care budgets and this is what the SP steady state period saw and we will see again.

Despite political sensitivities around domestic violence and abuse such services are NOT at the top of the commissioning pecking order.  I would go further than this and say DV services will also be below those sheltered housing services who are not supported housing as older persons have an even greater political (and electoral) sensitivity. If local councils are perceived not to be funding local sheltered housing then local councillors will very quickly lose their seats.

SP was and is Localism writ large.

Yet ‘Localism’ here means a massive transfer of blame away from central government cuts to become local council cuts as the Tories will say we gave you the money and it is local councils who choose to make funding decisions.  It also means that supported housing services that now are funded by absolute right with HB will become only part funded by right with the other part of the funding wholly at the discretion of the local council.

This is the rationing of funding on a hugely subjective basis and will see provider backstabbing provider with my client group are more deserving than yours, indeed it has already begun with the CEO of Women’s Aid saying exactly that a few weeks ago in truly scurrilous fashion.

It will also see many superficial funding premises made by commissioners such as we saw in SP with the huge shift away from accommodation based services to the much more costly and lesser quality visiting support services on the frivolous premise that funding should follow the person.

Why would anyone in their right mind commission a service that costs far more and is much less qualitative?

Yet that is what the surge in decommissioning accommodation based services and commissioning floating support services does and also it sees unmet needs increase and store up higher need and cost for future years.  Yet local commissioning only sees the immediate and short-term … after those council commissioners have funded their in-house and/or favoured services first and on a medium term basis.

Local commissioning also assumes that commissioner know local support need which they invariably don’t and it also drives up costs and reduces operational support time for smaller and specialist support services as managers have to attend so many more meetings, do so much more networking and brown-nosing and are constantly chasing the money instead of focusing upon improving service delivery.

Costs and funding will also fall and support will become what can be delivered for the generic unit cost of one hours support funding as that is how commissioners choose to deal with funding issues.  This also frivolous premise that means the specific expertise gained in working with high level complex needs is only funded at the same rate as the lowest generic support level such as the domiciliary care rate. This, in turn means all support workers can only be paid the national minimum wage and expected to do more for it as vacant posts go unfilled and commissioners demand outputs in a tick box exercise (which also reduces operational support time) and funding become output and critically not OUTCOME based funding.

That of course leads to support providers cherry picking the lowest support need cases and means those with higher support needs fall into the chasm of vulnerability between a support service that won’t take them and a care system that says their needs are not (yet) high enough to qualify for care funding!

Let me give you some facts – yes those pesky numbers again – which demonstrates all of the above.

My home city of Liverpool was the only SP services to fail its SP inspection and its SP re-inspection by the Audit Commission who inspected all 151 administering local authorities for Supporting People.  It was judged as truly incompetent … yet was rewarded for that incompetence by having the SP ringfence taken off a year before all other councils!!

Liverpool received just over £32 million in the SP pot in 2003 and now it lauds the fact that is spends £12.4 million per year on the exact same services it received almost 3 times that amount for 13 years earlier!  A 62% cut in funding in actual terms and in real terms much more …. and note well that Liverpool spends more than many other local councils do which shows that much more than this nominal 62% cut across English local councils and in many areas is a 100% cut.

Liverpool has also taken the decision to reduce the number of care cases they fund from 15,000 a year to 9,000 a year as Mayor Joe Anderson revealed in a Guardian article last year and that is a 40% drop in care cases which also means that these 6,000 very vulnerable persons can only be picked up by the new SP Mark2 ringfenced pot.

Similar examples of councils deciding to fund less care cases and purely on grounds of cost are happening all over the country and the SP Mark2 pot is going to have many tens if not hundreds of thousands more formerly care funded cases demanding a slice of the new pie.

All of these issues and I could give a dozen more very pertinent ones will mean and will mean with absolute certainty that existing supported housing services who  funded through housing benefit will not see the HB amount they lost through the LHA maxima cap replaced, and they will have to close.

So when I see the CEO’s of YMCA England, Women’s Aid and Refuge welcoming the DWP announcement and so many of the great and good of housing welcoming it, it simply means that they are ignorant of the industry and sector in which they work.

From late 1999 until just a few years ago another hackneyed phrase I heard regularly from support providers was we have a good relationship with the council, they like us.  This was always said when the slightest notion of councils cutting SP funding was mooted in any way and was truly delusional of support providers and many of whom would fold and close as they were heavily reliant on SP funding to survive.

I’m just as sure the CEOs of YMCA England and Refuge are just as delusional in welcoming the LHA maxima announcement and believing they will not lose out.  They will lose out and it is a certainty that they will lose out and in a very short space of time will have unsustainable cuts in overall funding and will close.

Another phrase I heard all too often in SP was from commissioners who said we are no longer funding because it has too many people from outside the council area.  That was even said about DV refuges who by definition and practice reciprocally take women fleeing violence and abuse from other areas out of necessity – and this resulted in the closure of a number of refuges.  Yet it particularly applied to very specialist services whose (alleged) need was only on a regional basis such as a hostel for mentally disordered offenders or acquired brain injuries and thus both undeserving and deserving services in the offensive and all too common perception of commissioners.

There are so many more failings of the Supporting People type arrangement this government wants to go back to and the vast majority of those failings are the commissioners.  Decisions are short termism writ large, are highly subjective, are rife for corruption, and often have no rhyme or reason and all end up making the crisis of support need so much greater.

In short local commissioning is NOT fit for purpose.

I could regale you with dozens and dozens of actual examples of the most appalling commissioning and decommissioning of support services.

  • The mentally disordered offenders unit that took clients direct from release at Rampton yet was reviewed as providing only generic low-level support need and so was decommissioned.
  • The dispersed homeless provision that was decommissioned by telephone call at 1pm in the afternoon and only told that because it was the front page headline on the local evening paper and the decision to close the service was because one councillor told the SP team that he didn’t want “those type of people in my ward” and yes that is a direct quote.
  • The dozens of homeless services on the south coast who were told by a number of SP commissioning teams that if they supported rough sleepers for more than 3 days they would lose their SP funding altogether because they had no local connection.
  • And I still have written evidence after a quick trawl of my SP archives of the DV refuge that was told it could not take women fleeing from other areas and if it did they would have their commissioning decision ‘seriously and immediately reviewed!

I raised a number of the above with the then ODPM under Labour which is now the CLG and they were not prepared to do anything at all about these practices and even with full documentary evidence of the above transgressions and appalling practice. I strongly suspect the same will happen when SP Mark2 comes around with central government saying it is a local decision to fund, commission and decommission and will only do something if it can make political capital out of it.

If you think the above is Dystopian and scaremongering I have dozens more reasons that can all be evidenced as to what will undoubtedly happen if we return to the localism of support commissioning under a reinvented SP Mark2 system.  The haste at which the government is programming this is frightening and the amount of this once and for all cash-limited pot (which at some future point will inevitably be un-ringfenced too) will be nowhere near enough to meet the need and a huge number of existing supported housing services will close their doors.

The statement from Damian Green the Secretary of State at the DWP is nothing less than the death of supported housing and like all other Tory HB reforms it will cost more and not save a penny as much greater costs will be transferred to health and social care and to criminal justice services….and in funeral grants to the great many more rough sleepers this will create and see die.

Anyone know if the minister has 666 tattooed on his scalp?


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