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Our response to the ‘This could cost lives’ report

Mental Health Concern (MHC) welcomes the ‘This could cost lives’ report from Rethink Mental Illness, which highlights the potential negative impact that the future funding of supported housing legislation could have upon people with mental health needs who use these services.

However, we do feel that there may be some potential benefits to the proposed funding model, given the right circumstances. Our response, by our Head of Housing with Care and Support, Alan Thompson, details why.

We share the anxieties, expressed in the ‘This could cost lives’ report, about the lack of clarity over the specifics of the funding changes, particularly to short-term supported housing.

There appears to be no additional funding or planned investment into preventative supported housing services, despite the clear value and cost benefits of existing service provision. The report clearly highlights this, in addition to the significant system benefits supported housing provides to the NHS. MHC would like to see greater emphasis on this issue, particularly emphasising the need for, and value of, supported housing to the whole system.

If we focus too narrowly on the specifics of the short-term model, we may miss the opportunity to promote significant system change in areas, such as how supported housing can:

  • Help manage the increasing pressure on NHS services, through helping people whose needs could be better met in other environments and significantly reducing delayed discharges and re-admissions.
  • Deliver significantly improved health outcomes and financial savings through partnership working.
  • Improve the interface between housing, health, and social care sectors.
  • Prevent people who have complex needs and who are multiply disadvantaged from slipping through the net.

MHC was disappointed to see that the ‘long term / short term’ terminology continues to be used. We describe the former as ‘non-time limited’, and have concerns about specifying a standard two-year period for short-term. Given the importance placed on personalised approaches across heath and care, we should be able to do better than this binary choice.

We do, of course, recognise that the assessment of an individual’s needs regarding a short- versus long-term placement to be very difficult. Therefore, we must ensure that the system is flexible enough to allow people to move from one to the other when necessary. We also have concerns over the ring-fence and how funding will be affected year on year.

Removing short-term services from the housing benefit system may or may not increase financial stability, but we have had to face similar uncertainty in relation to potential housing benefit caps and the threat of removal of exempt accommodation status. We do feel that there may be some potential benefits to the proposed funding model:

  • The new model will enable service users to take up mainstream and supported paid employment without impacting on their housing benefit and therefore their placement. This could have a huge positive impact on wellbeing and recovery for people. Entering employment within the current system is a major disincentive for tenants within our own short-term supported housing services.
  • The new model has the potential to reduce dependency on services, as people could move in and out of the system quicker.
  • If managed correctly, we believe that there is the potential for access to short-term supported housing to be smoother and less bureaucratic than via the housing benefit system, where we have found that the needs of our service users aren’t generally well understood.

The two-year short-term period must be flexible; we have found generally that our local authority partners are understanding of this within the current system, and we would hope that this continues.

At this stage, there is still a lot of uncertainty and lack of clear detail in the reforms that cause us great anxiety. We are disappointed by the lack of vision and insight into the need for significant investment in this area. However, we remain optimistic that there will be no decrease in the current provision. We must constructively engage with the requisite national and local government departments, including our NHS colleagues, to ensure we minimise any potential negative consequences and maximise the benefits for the people we serve.

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