Call for PfG to adequately fund Supporting People programme

NIFHA demonstration on Supporting People services funding at Parliament BuildingsRain, hail or shine, Edward Carson stands directing traffic on the roundabout on Stormont Estate in front of Parliament Buildings. This morning his statue was joined by nearly one hundred soggy demonstrators from across the Supporting People sector calling for an immediate 10% increase in funding.

Supporting People is a Housing Executive programme, funded annually to the tune of £74 million that enables more than 20,000 vulnerable people to live as independently as possible.

Charities, service providers and housing associations gathered at 8am to welcome MLAs and party officials arriving at work. The organisers explained that 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.

Spending on Supporting People projects has a net financial benefit when assessed across the Department for Social Development Communities and Department of Health. The two largest parties are both seeking to boost Northern Ireland’s health budget by £1 billion over the next five years. The groups involved this morning believe that earmarking an extra £7.5 million for Supporting People would save nearly double that figure by reducing the need for more expensive health care and other public services.

The money would cover steeply rising costs such as the new National Living Wage. Prioritising the support of people with specific needs to live independently is “in 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”.

Beneficiaries of Supporting People 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. Service users and providers were represented at the rally.

MLAs from Green and Alliance Parties greet Supporting People demonstrators at Parliament BuildingsFive MLAs – fifty percent of Green and Alliance MLAs – came down the steps to talk with those assembled when they moved up from the roundabout to the foot of the granite steps.

Alpha, Apex, Belfast Women’s Aid, BCM, Cedar Foundation, Choice, Clanmil, DePaul Ireland, First Housing, Fold, Leonard Cheshire, Simon Community NI, MACS NI, and Triangle participated along with umbrella organisations like NI Federation of Housing Associations and Council for the Homless NI.

Jim Dennison is the chief executive of Simon Community NI. He said:

In the last number of months we’ve 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 won’t be able to provide that service and more people will die.

Cameron Watt leads the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations.

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. Let’s make sure that the new Programme for Government prioritises support to let vulnerable people flourish.