Originally published on January 31 2022 by Inside Housing.
Just before Christmas, the government’s adult Social Care White Paper came out. At last, this white paper recognised that supported housing is crucial for putting “people at the heart of care”, and promised a piece of the pie from the health and social levy income to social care, including supported housing.
“We believe that more needs to be done to encourage mainstream social landlords back into this market”
However, as those Inside Housing readers who have worked in the sector for as many years as I have are already well aware, this policy commitment comes after years of under-funding for the development of new supported housing. During this time, many larger housing associations have disposed of much of their supported housing stock.
At Look Ahead, we believe that more needs to be done to encourage mainstream social landlords back into this market.
Without not-for-profit providers operating at scale, much of adult social care is being delivered by private providers, which are either small family-run businesses often with low quality standards, or larger chains, which are often financed by private equity partners and generally only interested in areas of the market where they can make a significant profit.
“Those returning to supported housing – or entering this part of the housing sector for the first time – require guidance around what is expected of them and their local partners”
More funding needed
Before housing associations can commit to investment in supported housing, several steps will need to be taken by the government – the first being higher grant levels for its provision. Grants should be set at a level that makes it viable and attractive enough for mainstream associations to re-enter the market and provide supported housing at scale. We know from recent experience that the demand and revenue funding from local authorities and health trusts is there; particularly for learning disabilities and mental health schemes. We just need to encourage and incentivise not-for-profit developers back into this market.
In addition to funding, the government needs to put in place a more consistent and joined-up approach to supported housing. Look Ahead works with more than 40 local authorities and health trusts, and we find the approach to supported housing across these areas is inconsistent.
If others are to be encouraged to take on a larger role in the delivery and management of supported housing, consistency is needed. Current providers must have strategic input into what a countrywide approach will look like. Those returning to supported housing – or entering this part of the housing sector for the first time – require guidance around what is expected of them and their local partners.
In our experience, there is a significant gap in experience and knowledge of supported housing on most health trusts (which, by definition, are made up of health experts). We believe that as the integrated care boards – which will have responsibility for NHS functions and budgets – are rolled out, they must include a strong contribution from the housing sector. Without this, the approach to supported housing will continue to be patchy, unpredictable and, ultimately, off-putting for the types of housing providers the government would hope to attract back into this area of work.
A national framework
There must be more guidance at a national strategic level around good practice for health and care pathways, which include supported housing, and this should involve consultation with housing providers. We’d like to see the development of a national framework, jointly owned by NHS England and Homes England.
“The measures around workforce included in the paper were generally targeted towards traditional care staff (who work in care homes and homecare). Yet we, like many others in our sector, are also finding it increasingly difficult to attract staff, despite being a living wage employer”
Meanwhile, Look Ahead’s other challenge to the proposals in the white paper is the lack of reference to one of the crucial challenges providers of supported housing are currently facing: recruiting and retaining support staff.
The measures around workforce included in the paper were generally targeted towards traditional care staff (who work in care homes and homecare). Yet we, like many others in our sector, are also finding it increasingly difficult to attract staff, despite being a living wage employer.
We’ve had very little joy in terms of accessing any of the money allocated recently to support recruitment and retention of social care staff. We’ve found that the £162.5m of available funding is directed to care for older people and, to a lesser extent, supported housing for people with learning disabilities. While Look Ahead does provide specialist supported housing to many customers with learning disabilities, we also work with those experiencing homelessness, young people, and individuals with mental health conditions, and this work also requires investment to attract and retain support staff.
The government’s commitment to funding for supported housing in the white paper is a huge step forward – but it was the easy part. Ensuring its implementation is well thought out, fit for purpose, and has the longevity supported housing needs, is where the really hard work comes in.
Look Ahead hopes to help shape the government’s progress, and we’d be interested in hearing from sector partners who’d like to work with us to influence and steer policy in the direction we – and our customers – so badly need.