Just before summer recess, Emma contributed to a debate in the Commons about the prospect of cuts to housing benefit for vulnerable people living in specialist housing, including elderly people, disabled people and people with learning disabilities, ex-homeless people, former veterans, people with mental health problems, care leavers and those fleeing domestic violence.
Supported accommodation for all of these people could be at risk if the housing benefit cap, which comes into force for social housing from April 2018, also applies to supported accommodation. In the last autumn statement, the government announced plans to bring housing benefit for social tenants in line with the local housing allowance (LHA) private rates from 2018. This made the future for both tenants and providers even less certain.
The government has recently completed a review of supported housing, and we were expecting an announcement in July about plans to reform its funding after months of waiting for a response. Instead, the new work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, has said he will make an announcement in the early autumn leaving vulnerable people who rely on supported housing at risk of homelessness and the charities and support groups who provide the support further agonising uncertainty.
Although, the government delayed the introduction of the LHA cap by a year, it still looms over those working hard to help people to rebuild their lives, following a period of poor health, time in prison or sleeping rough, or other personal crises.
Once such charity is Emmaus, a homelessness charity with a difference which doesn’t just give people a bed for the night but offers a home, meaningful work and a sense of belonging. Emmaus is set to open a community in South Shields but if housing benefit for supported accommodation is capped nationally at LHA rates, it would lose over £3 million per year, threatening most of its communities with closure and preventing the opening of future sites like the one in South Shields despite it providing a tried and tested, lasting route out of homelessness. And it’s cost effective. It generates £6 million per year in savings to the state, through reductions in offending and the improved use of health services.
The fact that their future and the futures of similar projects are now in jeopardy underlines the urgency of the situation.
The National Housing Federation has estimated that the LHA cap alone will mean that 156,000 specialist homes will be forced to close, and that in addition to stopping 2,400 new homes being completed, a further 9,270 homes planned for construction have been cancelled.
So why is the Government even contemplating such an unscrupulous move? Well, this type of housing incurs higher maintenance costs and investment, because the support provided is tailored to the individual needs of vulnerable tenants. It caters to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society and allows them to live more independently. Although getting people back on their feet may be costly in the short term, it is much more cost effective to the Exchequer in the long-term.
If the cap applies to supported housing then tenants will simply have nowhere else to go. The LGA warned that the benefit cap and subsequent lost revenues would further exacerbate these problems, and that vulnerable tenants wouldn’t have enough money to cover the higher rental costs.
Councils would then be left scrambling to find tenants suitable accommodation and having to meet any shortfall in costs, at a time when care services and budgets are already under enormous strain.
You can read Emma’s speech in the debate here.
Speaking after the debate Emma said, “I am struggling to think of a worse policy decision by any government to inflict on the most vulnerable people in society: the elderly, the disabled and women and children seeking refuge from abuse and others who have found themselves in dire circumstances. We should be looking after them not turfing them out the street and then pulling the funding from the very charities that support the homeless. It’s immoral, cruel and senseless.
“In her inaugural speech, Theresa May talked about social justice and taking a lead in the ‘One Nation’ spirit heralded by her predecessor. But we know his government’s decisions no matter who is at the helm always make life harder for the poorest and most vulnerable in society and easier for the wealthiest.
“Mrs May now has an opportunity to show that her Conservative Government is not as heartless and remorseless as Cameron’s but if cuts to housing benefits for supported housing are made, thousands of people could be left destitute. I hope the delay in the Government’s announcement means they have listened to the public, to the healthcare providers, to the charities that know what the introduction of these callous measures would mean. I hope the Government sees that regressive policies such as this, punitive benefits sanctions and the bedroom tax only create more problems for our society and will cost the Government much more in the long run.”