17 Dec 2010

Sheltered accommodation: decision made

The 'preferred option two' which sees residential scheme managers retained with a floating support option was voted through after three and a half hours of debate this evening (i) - or rather last night. It was the option I reluctantly supported. The alternative would be to stay as we are but Supporting People at the County Council have made clear that that would not get funded by them.

Photos: Randwick woods

It basically means hands were tied - I felt we had no option but to make moves now towards an option that SP would support - they after all give us around £500,000 each year. Others felt that they could not support this move as it was not in enough detail about what was being proposed - I do agree to a significant extent as there is much in the air that is unknown. How will this work?

Well I must have been to more than half a dozen meetings to discuss and learn more about the changes. Option 2 it means a cut of 6.6% in support hours by managers to schemes - but in reality it means more as some scheme managers will be based at two sites so wont be at the other site 50% of the time and travel time will be needed.

It has taken nearly 4 years for this review. Which as pointed out during the evening, is an unacceptable length of time to leave tenants and staff in a place of such uncertainty. It is no wonder that the review has been clouded at times with mistrust. Indeed several councillors called for a scrutiny inquiry into why it has taken so long and what went wrong - let's hope lessons are learnt.

In addition to all that we have seen the massive overspend and the massive under spend in housing - despite being assured finances were in order (see previous comment here). However it would be wrong not to also note that in the last months things have got better. The Housing Improvement Plans are in place and being acted on and there is a new sense of purpose.

There was much to welcome in the proposals but I do have concerns. The preferred option starts to make the changes that are likely to be required by the County Council - ie moves towards a ‘Hub and Spoke’ style delivery - I can see opportunities for improved care in such a model - but I also have immense concerns about the resources that will be available to deliver the support people need. There are also so few details of what it will mean in practice.

Other concerns include firstly that our housing tenants are subsidizing those living in sheltered housing to the tune of £6 plus per week. Many of these tenants are themselves facing challenges in their own lives. This seems to me, to be a social justice issue – and I question whether other tenants can continue subsidizing sheltered housing?

Secondly, as we know, the County Council have not shared what will happen to the Supporting People funding for sheltered housing - but it is very likely to be cut in the near future. This is a direct result of the Coalition government’s decision to slash local authority funding – a decision that many of us consider is wholly unnecessary and hugely damaging to our communities. It is disturbing to learn yesterday that Stroud will be among the hardest hit Councils in the country.

Thirdly, all the forecasts are that we have people living longer and needing more care.

These three factors alone mean we will have less money. For tenants uncertainty will continue. Already service providers in the community are looking at how limited services can be prioritised more to those in greater need. It would seem that however we voted today it will not be anything other than a holding option. There is not money to support the tenants preferred option unless fees are raised significantly - yet there is also lots of doubt about funding for Option 2 in the longer term.

If SP funding is lost we were told that all support costs would fall on our sheltered housing tenants, it is more than likely that they would be hit with extra annual costs in the region of £1,100.

The move to floating support – supporting people in the community – is listed as part of the new role of scheme managers. It is part of the move towards what has been termed as 'Hub and Spoke'. But we don’t know what the county is proposing in detail. Will the District Council compete for contracts for floating support? Currently Crossroads has the contract for floating support for older people in Stroud, other agencies also have contracts? Or will they compete with private agencies locally to provide floating support? Or have the County some other model in mind? Also what effect will this have on scheme managers to deliver a service?

We don’t know. The picture is very unclear indeed. It therefore makes it very difficult to make a decision now. I didn’t want to support any of these options - but reluctantly accepted that Option 2 is the least worst option if we are to take advantage of changes to Supporting People funding.

We could have waited to make the decision but this may have put the service at a disatvantage and would have left even longer uncertainty for staff and tenants - while we might hear in March from SP , there is no guarantee and it could be a year - option 2 is at least a step in the direction we need to go.....

Lastly just wanted to dismiss the idea by one councillor that we replace scheme managers with volunteers - this is a complete misunderstanding of the complex role and many challenging issues that scheme managers face.

(i) Option 2 is an approach that will continue to provide support from sheltered housing managers and may extend support to the wider community. Currently 796 of the councils 5,219 properties are for sheltered housing provision and these are based at 29 sheltered housing schemes. Residents at the schemes are generally over the age of 60 and benefit from support provided by scheme managers as well as other services to help them live comfortably and maintain their independence. The plans take into account how current tenants do not want on-site scheme managers replaced by visits from 'floating' scheme managers, and the likelihood that funding from the Supporting People scheme would be withdrawn if the council did not broaden its approach to support for older people in the area. Stroud District has an ageing population profile and by 2025 the number of people aged 65 and over in the district is expected to increase by 49.1% (compared to 2009). Currently 2,785 council tenants are over the age of 60, with 30% living in sheltered accommodation and 70% in standard local authority housing.

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