Extra cuts to NI Supporting People scheme sparks concern

7 Aug 17

Concerns have been raised over “sweeping cuts” to Northern Ireland’s Supporting People programme, which helps vulnerable people live independently.

Disabled person with helper

Photo: iStock

The scheme, delivered by the charitable and voluntary sector, supports more than 20,000 people by helping them avoid problems that can result in hospitalisation, institutional care or homelessness.

However, service providers have been told to make £3m worth of savings by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), a move that stakeholders say is “unsustainable” and will jeopardise their work.

This comes after the programme has seen its core budget frozen for a decade, resulting in a 20% real-terms cut.

Ricky Rowledge, co-chair of the Committee Representing Independent Supporting People Providers, said: “This short-term saving will have a profound and expensive long-term legacy.

“Services cannot be sustained at the standard required and there is a very real danger that those in most need will not receive adequate support or may lose out entirely.”

Rowledge urged the NIHE to rethink the policy, which he said threatens the “immensely successful” programme.

Speaking about the scheme he said: “It’s role in preventing homelessness cannot be underestimated, but cuts to this programme will make the Homelessness Strategy for Northern Ireland 2017-2022 effectively undeliverable.”

Ben Collins, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, said: “It is deeply concerning that there has not been proper and meaningful engagement with the community and voluntary sector on the reduction of the available ring-fenced budget.

“Independent research has shown that every £1 spent in Supporting People schemes saves £1.90 for other public services, so the loss of funding will not just affect the quality of life for more than 20,000 people it will result in a greater cost burden on other public spending.”

He called on NIHE to fully consult service providers or face punishing all the users of effective services without properly addressing those which maybe underperforming.

A NIHE spokesperson said: “While the baseline Supporting People budget has been protected at £72.8m, there are a number of inescapable new financial commitments which need to be met.

“This necessitated a review of the funding previously provided for a number of

schemes and regrettably we have had to advise providers of a reduction to some

budgets in the order of 5%.”

The NIHE said it had taken action to mitigate this impact including deferring the cut for first three payment periods to allow service providers enough time to plan around it.

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