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Housing matters

There is an alternative to Welsh Government plans for housing-related grants – and support for it is growing, says Katie Dalton.

Over the past few years Welsh ministers have become increasingly keen to rationalise and streamline their portfolio of grants. In October 2017 the Welsh Government’s detailed draft budget revealed a proposal to remove the Supporting People (SP) ringfence and merge it with nine other grants to create a new Early Intervention: Prevention and Support (EIPS) Grant in 2019/20.

Although the sector had been involved in discussions to allow limited funding flexibility over the past few years, this proposal was a complete surprise. The pace of change, lack of engagement prior to the announcement and the very clear risks of this proposal resulted in huge concerns being raised by providers, landlords and local authority staff.

The proposed EIPS would merge SP and the Homelessness Prevention Grant with a range of non-housing programmes, which risks diluting the focus on housing solutions at a time when homelessness is increasing. It places marginalised and often unpopular client groups in competition for funding with early years and family services, and it creates huge uncertainty for landlords and lenders who could end their investment in supported accommodation stock. Although the circumstances were different, the evidence in England highlights these risks. The Auditor General found average funding cuts of 45 per cent when the SP ringfence was removed there.

A constructive alternative

While we have consistently voiced these concerns on behalf of the sector, we also recognise the changing political landscape in relation to grant alignment. Although we disagree with the proposed EIPS, we recognise the need to engage constructively and offer a solution which meets the aims of both government and the sector. As a result, we have been discussing an alternative with our members, partners and other stakeholders since November.

This alternative solution would split the proposed EIPS into two and create a dedicated, ringfenced Homelessness and Housing-Related Support Grant. This would include three of the EIPS grants -Supporting People, Homelessness Prevention Grant and Rent Smart Wales – as well as the funding that will be devolved to Wales in 2020 for short-term supported accommodation. Instead of merging ten grants into one, it merges 11 grants into two. It helps ministers to rationalise grants but reduces the risks outlined above.

National Assembly inquiries

In December the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee held an inquiry into rough sleeping and unsurprisingly heard many concerns about the proposed EIPS grant. In May, the committee’s report stated that it shared concerns raised by stakeholders about the merger proposal and the potential impact on rough sleeping. The committee recommended that SP remains a separate, ringfenced grant if funding flexibility shows a reduction in SP funding or negatively affects service delivery. However, the Welsh Government has rejected this recommendation. This indicated that we were right to put forward a constructive alternative, instead of just defending the status quo.

In addition, the Public Accounts Committee has conducted an inquiry into SP. It published its report in June, stating that it shared the ELGC Committee’s concerns about the potential impact of EIPS on housing-related support services and rough sleeping. The Committee recommended that Welsh Government ‘particularly considers the merits of integrating Supporting People solely with housing and homelessness grants’, as outlined in our alternative proposal.

Support for an alternative

Since then, we have formalised our alternative solution through the publication of our Housing Mattersreport on 13 June. This has been supported by ten national housing and support organisations and alliances in Wales, including Cymorth, Community Housing Cymru, Welsh Women’s Aid, Rough Sleepers Cymru, Shelter Cymru, Tai Pawb, CIH Cymru, EROSH South Wales, Housing Justice Cymru and End Youth Homelessness Cymru founding members.

The Housing Matters report outlines the risks of the proposed EIPS Grant but also highlights the benefits of our alternative proposal. We believe it offers an exciting opportunity to take a more strategic approach to homelessness and housing-related support by combining four grants into single commissioning and governance structures, which can help Wales to deliver new and innovative solutions such as Housing First.

Ministerial decisions

Since October, the landscape has changed dramatically. The UK Government has announced that additional funds will be devolved to Wales in 2020 for short-term supported accommodation. This increases the uncertainty and risk facing the sector and has been described as a ‘game-changer’. Importantly, the housing minister has said that she is in listening mode and is committed to considering our alternative solution. We hope ministers will see the benefits of our proposal and help safeguard the future of homelessness and housing-related support services in Wales.

Katie Dalton is director of Cymorth Cymru

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