The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, has backed a campaign calling for proper funding for supported housing. The commissioner was speaking during a visit to Alpha Housing’s Wilton Court sheltered housing scheme in Belfast on Tuesday.
Commissioner Lynch was visiting at the request of the Committee Representing Independent Supporting People Providers (CRISPP). The committee, which NIFHA co-chairs, is campaigning for the reversal of a recent cut to SP funding and other safeguards for these vital services.
The Housing Executive’s Supporting People programme funds over 800 projects enabling a range of older people to live independently in the community. These range from floating support services enabling homeowners to maintain their independence; to sheltered housing for older people wanting the benefits of living in a shared environment, with support from a scheme co-ordinator. It also includes ‘supported living’ schemes for people with dementia and other significant care needs.
During his visit, the Commissioner for Older People saw the difference good sheltered housing makes in the lives of its older residents. This includes reducing loneliness and isolation, increasingly recognised as major threats to public health. In Northern Ireland’s sheltered housing schemes, residents can avail of regular meals together, and enjoy regular social activities and outings, all while maintaining their independence. For many sheltered tenants, it can also help prevent an earlier move to residential or nursing care.
As well as helping older people, the Supporting People programme also funds a wide range of supported housing projects aiding groups including people with disabilities, young people leaving care, and homeless services. Around 20,000 people across NI are helped annually.
Independent assessment of Supporting People found it saves the public purse £125 million each year by reducing the need for other, more expensive public services. For every pound spent on SP services for older people, a saving of £2.61 is made.
In spite of this strong track record, most SP services faced a funding cut of 5% in April, seriously impacting the quality of services and the viability of providers, most of whom are charities. For example, Alpha Housing has significantly cut the hours of the scheme managers in their sheltered schemes, cutting the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time posts.
In response, SP providers are campaigning for this cut to be reversed, with adequate annual increases to meet rising costs; for the health and care system to contribute to the cost of much-needed additional supported housing services; and for a full assessment of those growing needs to be completed as soon as possible.
Welcoming the opportunity to visit Wilton Court and meet the residents, The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch said:
“We are living in an ageing population and one of the big challenges is to provide older people with a choice of housing options so they can decide what best meets their needs.
“Many residents told me how they enjoyed living in sheltered accommodation and how it made them feel more secure and connected to other people. However, I also heard about cuts to the Supporting People budget and am concerned that these could have a negative impact on the quality of life for older people living in this type of housing. As the population ages Government needs to be investing more in housing options, including sheltered accommodation, so that the needs of older people now and in the future are better met.”
Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of Alpha Housing, said:
“We are delighted the Commissioner has backed this important campaign. Alpha and other Supporting People providers services always aim to provide high-quality supported housing services. However, the 5% cut has forced us to reduce the amount of support we provide to our elderly tenants. Other providers face having to close services. It’s vital this short-sighted cut is reversed as soon as possible.”
The Supporting People budget has not seen an uplift in a decade and requires proper resourcing in order to deliver services effectively. The Let’s Keep on Supporting People Campaign is calling for a sustainable funding model to ensure that those in need receive the necessary levels of support.