In Part 1 I talked about the brash arrival and the shambolic departure of Supporting People in England and then in Part 2 I looked at the three big lessons we’ve learnt at Bromford after 12 years of Supporting People. Now in Part 3 I take a look at how we’re preparing for a post-Supporting People world.
The rate at which different local authorities are cutting their spending on Supporting People varies quite a bit. Some authorities – particularly unitaries – can see that spending money on preventative services now saves them a lot more money down the line. But many others – particularly two tier county councils – can’t seem to pull the plug on SP quickly enough. The allure of make big cash savings now which won’t require politically sensitive mass redundancies amongst their own work force; coupled with a hard-nosed judgement that it is other organisations who will have to pick up the tab for the increased costs that result from closing services, seems just too hard to resist.
Here’s part of our team delivering SP funded services in Staffordshire. This was taken in December 2013 when we were still mobilising for new contracts to support individuals at risk of social exclusion.
By April 2016 the team will look like this….
In 2003 Staffordshire County Council had an SP Budget of £16m. In April 2016 it will be spending nothing at all on housing related support.
Staffordshire are by no means exceptional.
Indeed we think it would be prudent to assume that most if not all the 19 authorities where we once provided SP services will have stopped funding them altogether sooner rather than later.
Does that mean we are giving up on individuals with a learning disability or mental health need? Does that mean we will stop caring about those at risk of being socially isolated or in debt? Does that mean we will leave the disabled or frail elderly to fend for themselves?
Well no it certainly doesn’t. We won’t be able to do things on such a big scale as we did in the heyday of Supporting People. But we’ll have more control over what we do and how we do it, which has made us think long and hard about why we are here and how we should use our resources to create the most value for our customers and the communities where they live.
Supported housing has always had a pretty simple idea at it’s heart. It’s about getting to know a customer (service user), finding out where they want to get to and then agreeing how we can help them get there. It’s been about helping an individual or family go on a journey from where they are to a destination that they have chosen. We may have helped them choose a destination they hadn’t thought of before, or never thought they were capable of reaching, but ultimately it is one they want to reach and believe they can reach.
It means that almost every individual is on a different journey. They are starting in different places, heading for different destinations and taking different routes.
But supported housing providers have tended to focus on needs, problems, barriers…a deficit based model which pays more attention to what people can’t do rather than building on the strengths that every individual has.
It’s no surprise that housing associations generally see themselves first and foremost as providers of housing. Look at any of their websites and you’ll see them proclaim how many homes they own…and maybe how many new ones they plan to build. They are first and foremost property businesses.
There’s a good reason for that. The less they spend on services the more they have to spend on building more (admittedly much needed) new homes. So social housing has tended to offer a limited and rather reactive service to its existing customers. Inadvertently this has led to a rather negative relationship developing between landlord and tenant. I talked about one housing association’s reflections on this in my last post. Their CEO put it very pithily when she said:
Tenants didn’t trust us and we didn’t trust them
If we were to be harsh we might say that a typical housing association service amounts to little more than handing over the keys to a house and then sitting back and waiting to pick up the pieces (or deal with the trouble) if things go wrong…an ambulance and police car parked on the edge of each estate if you will.
At Bromford we are bringing together the skills and experience of colleagues from across our housing, support and opportunities teams to re-imagine the relationship we have with each of our customers. We are trying to move away from a deficit based and reactive service model to a more relational approach which starts by asking our customers what they like doing, what they want to achieve in their new home and whether we might be able to help…now or at some point in the future.
We are learning that our customers and communities have many gifts and talents and that even if they do need some help they are just as likely to find what they need from a friend or a neighbour as they are from us…or any other professional for that matter.
We’ve stopped assuming that ‘the good stuff’ is a scarce resource; and a scarce resource that only flows from the limited services that we can provide to our customers. Now we start by assuming that if things can be done by individuals, families or communities…by and for themselves….well that’s great. Maybe there are things they could do if they had a bit of help from us. Only as a last resort should we be looking for things that only we can do.
What can individuals and communities do for themselves?
What could they do if they had some help?
What’s left that they can’t do?
Our role is much more about helping encourage people to have a go; helping them to believe in what they can achieve – on their own or together; being there to lend a hand only if it’s needed.
We’ve been learning from strengths based approaches and realising that we can achieve far more if we play the role of coach and enabler rather than police officer or rescuer.
We’re testing out a number of new approaches but they all start by focussing on developing relationships and building trust. We are not doing things for or to people but stepping back and letting individuals, families and communities take the lead.
We know there are others trying out similar things – Notting Hill Housing, Yarlington, United Welsh – and it’s good to be sharing ideas and learning from others embarking on a similar journey. Less than a year ago we were still absorbed with the world of tenders, hourly rates, market share and growing the business. I won’t pretend the last 12 months haven’t been a painful time for many colleagues and customers…and we are not out of the woods yet but by working with our customers we are entering an exciting world of abundance after years of managing scarcity.