Headlines: October 17th, 2005

The Audit Commission warns that the government must act quickly to protect and improve housing-related support services like sheltered housing for older people, refuges for women fleeing domestic violence and hostels for young homeless people. The Supporting People programme, introduced in 2003, lacks a clear national framework and a long-term financial commitment. The programme brings together a variety of funding sources and has a budget of 1.72 billion pounds. It provides a better quality of life for 1.2 million vulnerable people and helps them live more independently.The programme provides housing-related support which helps prevent problems that could lead to hospitalisation, institutional care or homelessness. Examples include projects which give practical advice and budget counselling for young people leaving care or helping people with learning difficulties develop life skills so they can live on their own. Groups that benefit include people with mental health problems or physical disabilities, travellers, refugees, people with drug or alcohol problems, offenders, older people, teenage parents and women at risk of domestic violence.

The Commission found difficulties in implementing the Programme including poor financial forecasting at a national level that has led to budget and operational uncertainty as well as a growing lack of confidence among commissioning bodies and those that provide services. It is also critical of the lack of a shared vision for the future of Supporting People across government departments. Concern is also expressed at the absence of a minimum national standard of provision that could lead to some vulnerable people falling through the net.

Recommendations for improvement include developing a refreshed vision setting out a long-term financial framework and making sure that projects across different government departments are co-ordinated. The Commission says that a minimum national standard of provision should be set and that there should be clarification over how services are best provided to people whose needs are met by a number of providers or across geographical boundaries. At the local level it is important that authorities, agencies and providers use the Supporting People grant to complement their wider health, social care, housing and criminal justice funds and policies.