Blog: Why supported housing matters

Angela-LockwoodNorth Star Housing Group’s Angela Lockwood remembers a meeting between an MP and supported housing service user that crystallises the importance of these services.

I recall one very cold winter’s day some years ago, near to Christmas, when we decided to have an official opening of our new learning disability scheme in South Shields.

The north wind was blowing in from the sea, and it was one of the coldest days of my life. The Christmas tree was ready to be lit, the plaque covered by the usual fraying blue velvet, awaiting it’s unveiling and lots of people anticipating our special guest to start the proceedings.

I saw him approach and went to greet him, his hand was colder than mine as he whispered in my ear with honest sincerity “I am so pleased to be here – you must be very proud” and David Miliband went to business, charming everyone – of course South Shields was his constituency.

But what happened next continues to live with me.

One of the tenants, lets call her Mary, a very happy middle aged woman who happened to have Downs Syndrome, insisted we visited her bungalow. Mary proudly showed us around and focused our attention in particular on her new portable TV that was encased in a plastic moulding of Winnie the Pooh’s head. She gave David the remote and asked him to switch on the TV as she chuckled in absolute glee.

It was a magical moment for us all - David was sensitive, caring and engaged, I was feeling incredibly proud of our 16 new units and the tenant was so very thrilled to be living independently for the first time in her life. I have honestly never seen anyone so delighted with a TV. I know we both felt humbled.

But of course there is an important point here.

We built the scheme around a central hub, to enable all tenants to live as independently as possible. As we know people with a learning disability have a right to choice and control over their lives so they can live as independently as they can. They are not given the choices and opportunities that many of us take for granted - such as deciding where and who to live with or what to do during the day. But we know they thrive in independent living and that it’s a fraction of the cost and of much higher quality than the alternative of residential care.

I really don’t know what I will say to Mary and her family if the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap is introduced and a truly sustainable way of funding supported housing isn’t put in place. How do I explain sensibly that she will have to move back to residential care at a much higher financial cost? I dare not think of the trauma, the regressive impact on Mary and many others, not to mention the absolute lack of choice they will have. I also don’t know when to begin this conversation, but the instability and lack of future security is bearing heavily on many people’s shoulders. Mary is currently happily unaware of the changes that may threaten her beloved home – not a bad place to be.

The very supportive North East MPs have taken this issue very seriously. We’ve made sure they do - by talking to them about it at every possible opportunity, impressing upon them the seriousness of the issue. And I know will do all they can to get this resolved

My plea is to withdraw the LHA cap and find a way of funding supported housing that provides security, so thousands of these conversations don’t need to happen. To quote Winnie the Pooh “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart”.

  • Angela Lockwood is group chief executive of North Star Housing Group. This blog first appeared on the National Housing Federation website.
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