A coalition of charities and voluntary organisations has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to strengthen a programme that annually provides vital support to help more than 26,000 people in Northern Ireland live as independently as possible.
The Supporting People programme, which provides some 882 housing related support services across Northern Ireland, equips vulnerable people to live independently and helps prevent problems that can result in hospitalisation, institutional care or homelessness.
Introduced in 2003 across the UK, the programme has dramatically improved the services available to a range of groups including older people, people with learning disabilities, and homeless people. Research has demonstrated that it is an ‘invest to save’ programme delivering net financial benefits by reducing demand on health, criminal justice and other public services.
However, funding for Supporting People schemes has now been frozen for seven years, a ‘real terms’ cut of over 20%. Now campaigners, representing the 106 Supporting People providers, have gathered at Stormont to seek assurances on the programme’s future. Supporting People is currently subject to a government review, and campaigners are also concerned about the potential impact of NI Executive spending cuts on the Programme.
Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations
warned that the future of services relied on by thousands of people requires Supporting People to be strengthened as dedicated programme of housing support, and properly funded by the NI Executive:
“Supporting People has been an immense success, enabling thousands of people to sustain their accommodation and live with as much independence as possible. Service providers are committed to working with government in its review, but uncertainty on the programme’s future and a prolonged funding squeeze threatens the quality and viability of Supporting People services.
“Supporting People must be properly resourced to remain effective and continue delivering strongly for Northern Ireland. Inflationary uplifts are vital in the short-term, and we call on the NI Executive to recognise Supporting People’s value and commit to strengthening it as a dedicated programme of housing support.”
Ricky Rowledge, Director of Council for the Homeless Northern Ireland (CHNI), said:
“The quality of life for thousands of vulnerable people is heavily dependent on Supporting People. Without strong measures in place to protect services, there is a distinct danger that those in most need may lose out.
“The programme has been frozen for seven years which represents a cut in real terms by 20 per cent. Research on delivery in Great Britain confirms that Supporting People is worth every penny and saving taxpayers millions through avoidance of costly hospital admissions and reliance on other services. We cannot afford to risk the future of a programme that makes such a significant social and financial impact.”