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Local government minister Phil Woolas' speech to the National Housing Federation today....
Local government minister Phil Woolas' speech to the National Housing Federation today.

1.Thanks ever so much for giving me this opportunity to talk about housing and the Supporting People Strategy.

2.I want to start with a few facts and figures to put what I am going to say into context. In 1997 the Government was faced with many of our most vulnerable people living on the streets or in bed and breakfast accommodation, over two million homes failing basic decency standards and a£19 billion backlog of repairs to social housing.

3.We made some tough choices and rough sleeping is now down by two-thirds and bed & breakfast accommodation for families is a thing of the past. At the moment there are 15,000 children spending the night in shelters in France, mostly in Paris. There are 6000 rough sleepers in Madrid. Last week there were 230 in London, 15 in Manchester and 8 in Birmingham.

4.Our target is that by 2010 there will be 3.6 million more decent homes with 8 million people - 2.5 million of them children - directly benefiting. By 2010 we will have invested over£40 billion in repairing existing social housing and we have set a target of 30,000 additional social rented homes a year by 2007/08.

5.Today we are talking about people who find it difficulty to live independently. Now they have the opportunity in bricks and mortar terms, as I have shown, but they need help and support to take that opportunity. So more than ever the Supporting People programme is vital to give these more vulnerable people in our society a chance. And as our targets for future housing are higher still, it is clear we must get the future strategy for Supporting People right.

6.Today we are launching our 'Next Steps' publication which sums up the responses to our consultation and sets out our thinking so far. I urge you to read it as it puts more flesh on the bones of some of what I am going to say now.

7.The first point I want to make - and one all of you here know very well - is that there is little more important to anyone, anywhere, than having a roof over their head. And the second point follows - the right support to keep that roof in place can be just as critical.

8.It might be stating the obvious to you, but it is all too easy to overlook this basic need and address all sorts of other problems before that one. So it is worth saying up front.

9.The third point I want to make, is that I see helping the most vulnerable people in our society, people who may be suffering from deprivation in many different ways including homelessness or housing difficulties, as a top priority. We cannot deliver social justice and equal opportunity for all people in our communities without helping these people. In many cases they have to break out of a downward spiral that leads to social exclusion, poverty and a very low quality of life. We must change that.

10.And the fourth point is that the right support means services are joined up and wrapped around the personneeding them. This is really important if they are to be as effective as they can.

11.So we have four elements - the need for a roof, the need to keep that roof, the need to break out of multiple deprivation and the need for joined-up services. All four are at the heart of the Supporting People programme. The fourth is why it's called 'Supporting People' and not 'Supporting Houses'.

12.Very often stable housing and the support to live independently is the first step on the road for somebody putting their life back together. It is the first step to gaining or regaining self-respect and the respect of everybody else around them. It is the first step towards being a real part of the local community.

13.So I see housing support as the spine around which we must wrap all the other support services. It is the basis from which you can start to tackle all sorts of other problems like poor health, missed education, lack of employment, the absence of any infrastructure of family and friends, and so on.

14.That is why I believe the Supporting People programme is so important, and so fundamental to everything the Government is trying to achieve. And we are simply not prepared to have any kind of postcode lottery. People must get the help they need so they have access to the opportunities open to people elsewhere. Nothing else is acceptable.

15.So far we have invested substantial amounts of money through Supporting People. Around£1.7 billion has been distributed, and over£1 billion of that is through the Third Sector - probably the largest domestic programme delivered through the sector in the country.

16.That means we must make sure the programme is delivering the best possible for the people who need the support. And that is why we have been very carefully consulting on where we go from here.

17.However, I see Supporting People as an 'invest to save' programme. It is helping many people who are not contributing to their communities, either socially, or economically. It is giving them the chance to do both. That is a win:win - for the people helped and for our society and economy.

18.Before I talk about the consultation itself and the 'Next Steps' booklet, I want to tell you about Alan Sanderson. He is a real person - in fact there is a picture of he and I at the front of the publication. Not the usual 'head and shoulders' of the Minister for once!

19.Alan's story is his own unique one of course but it is not untypical of the stories of many people being helped through the programme.

20.I met Alan on a visit to Nottingham in March. He had been a heroin user. His life had got out of control and he ended up sleeping rough on the streets of Nottingham. Among his many problems he also suffers from epilepsy and that was getting out of control too with him living on the streets.

21.About five years ago the charity Framework, which gets funding through the Supporting People programme, came across Alan. Their Street Outreach Team found him suitable temporary hostel accommodation and linked him up with substance misuse services. Working with Alan they started to turn his life around.

22.Then in October last year they found him accommodation in New Albion where I met him in March. He was really getting himself sorted out there and two weeks later was able to move into his new flat. Framework will go on giving him floating support to make sure he maintains the flat and can cope with his new independent life.

23.Framework, through Supporting People, has totally changed his life and his future.

24.Alan's story is one of tragedy and triumph. It is also one of invest and save.

25.For me, meeting people like Alan, drives home how important it is that we get the Supporting People programme right. And that, in effect, is what many of you said too in response to our consultation. There are many aspects which we need to look at further and in more detail. That is one reason why we are not publishing the full strategy yet.

26.The other reason is that, through the Comprehensive Spending Review, we are able to look more closely at how we can best line up Supporting People and the other resources needed to deliver for vulnerable people. It is there worth us making sure that the full strategy is timed to capture and reflect the outcomes of that work.

27.Having said that, the consultation has given us plenty to work on in the meantime. I want to thank everyone who responded. We had over 1000 responses in total, representing the views of many times that number of people. Overall people were very positive about the programme, strongly supported it and gave us constructive comments. That was very encouraging for everyone connected to the programme.

28.The responses came from people and organisations with interests from all sides of the programme - from commissioners, from providers and from practitioners. And I was particularly pleased to hear directly from the vulnerable people who have benefited or are still benefiting from our investment in Supporting People.

29.Comments like this one: 'Without this service I don't think I could carry on. It has pulled me from disaster. Keep up the good work, all!'

30.Or another user wrote: 'I feel tenancy support workers are a good idea. It stops isolation and allows you to access other services.'

31.Or this one: 'Whoever is in charge of Supporting People now should be much more in the public eye with the Government policies on homelessness as it is a massive problem countrywide and an overwhelming problem in London.' I think we can understand the message there.

32.Many responses urged us to 'take care and get it right'. In fact the National Housing Federation's own response said: 'changes to the existing arrangements should not be rushed' and it went on to suggest new proposals should be piloted, risks assessed and existing problems sorted out.

33.Another point the Federation and many other respondents made was that we should put Supporting People on a statutory basis. I am persuaded that we should look at the case for this, at least for socially excluded groups.

34.But I'll tell you what we won't do - remove the ring fence. It was ring-fenced for a reason and we won't betray vulnerable people, unlike some.

35.Another widely held view was that we should consider producing an 'outcomes for independence framework' at national level. This will help authorities and providers to be clear about what they should be enabling and achieving. But I see its greatest value being to allow vulnerable people to be clear about what the should receive from the programme in their local area, no matter where they are. Doing so will be an important part of preventing the postcode lottery I mentioned earlier. So we will look at producing a national framework.

36.The National Housing Federation welcomed a system of outcome based monitoring, featuring soft and hard measures. As you point out, commonly agreed measures would lead to a more joined-up and co-ordinated regulation system. Another point that needs more thinking about.

37.Many people raised the issue of whether the programme could be broadened to meet a number of needs where there is currently no support in place. Budgets are tight. But it is clear from the value improvement projects which 11 Supporting People authorities have carried out that there is scope for doing more for the current money. The question is how do we ensure authorities unlock that? Again we will look at taking that forward.

38.There was a great deal of support for the role of the third sector in delivering the programme, a welcoming of our commitment to that. Our statement of next steps reaffirms that commitment, and makes clear our expectation that authorities must adhere to principles of Compact and full cost recovery.

39.We will need to look at the support and challenges which need to be in place to deliver on that. And in doing so we will need to reflect that one size does not fit all. Third sector organisations come in all shapes and sizes. Just within the housing association sector the size of your organisations varies from very large to very small so we cannot generalise.

40.However, local government now has the stability and predictability given by two and then three year settlements. They should pass this on to service providers in the third sector so they can get on with the job and look with more confidence to the future.

41.By far the most common point of agreement from the consultation was that Supporting People is a very important programme, has achieved a great deal already and could do much more. We will now get the further work going - but I do urge you to keep feeding in your views and ideas. We see this as a continuing dialogue that can only be strengthened by your ongoing contributions and further thoughts. There is a great deal that needs developing before we can be confident we have got it right as we head towards a full strategy for this important programme.

42.We must not let people like Alan down. These are the people who really need help and support as they struggle to live independent, dignified lives with access to the opportunities many of us sometimes take for granted. Thank you.

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