A coalition of third sector organisations has called on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to reverse cuts to a vital programme that helps vulnerable people in Cookstown live as self-sufficiently as possible.
Each year, the Supporting People programme assists more than 20,000 people in Northern Ireland to live independently and avoid problems that can result in hospitalisation, institutional care or homelessness.
More than £70 million worth of services are delivered in Northern Ireland through 100 Supporting People providers, including MUST Hostel in Cookstown.
Earlier this year, NIHE implemented a five percent funding reduction across all accommodation SP schemes, putting the viability of many schemes at risk.
In recent weeks, the Department for Communities gave NIHE a one-off non-recurrent £2.6million allocation to the programme.
However to date there has been no communication with the sector regarding this allocation and there is no certainty that all affected providers will be reimbursed for their financial loss.
Ricky Rowledge, co-Chair of Committee Representing Independent Supporting People Providers (CRISPP) said: “This is a partial and temporary in-year reinstatement that does not cover the full scale of the budget reduction.
“While any reprieve is welcomed, service providers will again be facing a five percent budget reduction in six months’ time.
“A decision on how this stopgap funding will be allocated is expected at the end of October but there is no assurance that funding will be returned to all organisations that have had their budgets reduced.
“We are urging the Housing Executive to reinstate the funding immediately to all providers. We are up for reform and want to work in partnership with the Housing Executive and Department for Communities to deliver a strategic remodelling of the programme.”
Lyndsey O’Neill, Manager at MUST Hostel which operates in Cookstown, said: “Supporting People has been an immense success, enabling thousands of people to sustain their accommodation and live with as much independence as possible.
“However, increasing costs and reductions in annual funding are impacting on the long-term quality and viability of many services.
“The quality of life for thousands of vulnerable people depends on this programme and it must be properly resourced to remain effective and continue delivering strongly.”
Independent research has shown that every £1 spent in Supporting People schemes saves £1.90 for other public services.
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.
Ben Collins, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations said: “This short term saving will have a profound and expensive long-term legacy in Cookstown.
“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.
“We are calling for NIHE to reinstate the funding immediately to all providers and work in partnership with us to agree a sensible reform and strategy for Supporting People.”
More than 100 organisations are affected by the cuts to the Supporting People programme including: Alpha Housing (NI) Limited, Apex Housing Association, Barnardos, Choice Housing , Depaul Northern Ireland, East Belfast Mission, Extern Northern Ireland, Inspire Wellbeing, Leonard Cheshire Disability,
MACS Supporting Young People, Mencap, Shelter (NI) Ltd., Simon Community, First Housing and Women’s Aid.
To find out more about Supporting People visit http://www.chni.org.uk/keeponsp.html