For national and local government, vulnerable people present a tricky dilemma in terms of housing. They often rely on the state to give them a place to live, but many have very complex needs which are not well served by normal rented accommodation. They might struggle with personal care, ongoing health problems, or other day-to-day tasks and admin.
Supported accommodation – funded by housing benefit – is one solution to this. In supported accommodation, people who would struggle to live independently can live in a place where they get help, care or just supervision. While it’s often older people who need this kind of accommodation, they’re certainly not the only ones. It could also be people with physical or learning disabilities, people with severe mental health problems, those recovering from drug or alcohol misuse, people who have recently left prison or care, and those who have been homeless (or might be at risk of it). While some people will always need supported accommodation, in many cases it can be a stepping stone to more independent living.
On 20 October 2020, the government announced new measures to make sure that our supported housing sector is giving vulnerable people the help they need and providing value for public money. This included a new set of minimum standards for supported housing, plus £3 million for pilot projects in five different local areas.
New minimum standards for supported housing
A number of different organisations provide supported housing, including local councils, housing associations, charities, national organisations and other providers. They’re regulated in a wide variety of different ways, with uneven levels of success.
To try and give all these different providers – as well as the organisations that are funding and regulating them – a better idea of best practice, the government has drawn up a ‘national statement of expectations’. This document aims to make sure that supported accommodation is safe and of good quality, while also providing decent value for money.
It’s non-statutory – meaning it’s not actually law – but the idea is to give regulators a set of gold standards that they can work off, along with guidance on how to monitor and enforce them.
Funding for pilot projects
Apart from the minimum standards, the government has also earmarked £3 million for projects to test new approaches to supported accommodation in five areas: Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull, Birmingham and Bristol. The projects will run until at least March 2021, and are focused around local areas where there is a particularly high level of need.
The goal of the pilot projects is to try and improve the standard of supported accommodation in the target areas, particularly in terms of monitoring how well accommodation measures up to the new minimum standards and forcing improvements where it doesn’t.
The wider context
When COVID-19 first hit in early 2020, it showed up both the strengths and weaknesses in our welfare systems, but it also demonstrated the tremendous capacity that our government has to help vulnerable people if they are raised high enough up the agenda. Back in March when lockdown kicked off, huge numbers of rough sleepers were taken off the streets and put temporarily into safe and comfortable accommodation, while extraordinary measures were taken to protect other vulnerable people while still making sure they were well taken care of.
For many people, it was a lightbulb moment that we genuinely can look after the most vulnerable people in society when we make it a priority, and both government departments and other organisations will be keen not to lose this momentum.
As Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said when the new measures were announced:
‘Supported housing plays a vital role in our society, ensuring that thousands of people have the home and support they need to live independent and healthy lives. We must continue to invest in it and develop it, including building more supported housing to help more people access these desperately needed services.’