Like many others, I have awaited George Osborne’s statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review with a great deal of trepidation. This is my reaction to it, just two hours after the Chancellor sat down and before we have had chance to assess some of the detail.
The announcement that adult social care and the Personalisation agenda are to be protected is particularly welcomed, although I am disappointed that there are to be further cuts of, on average, £100 million each year for the next four years in the Supporting People budget . This equates to an annual cut of 6.25%. This is disappointing given that it comes on top of cuts of £200 million over the 6 years since 2004/05 and there is no fat left on the bone. Supporting People services are aimed directly at the elderly, the frail and the poorest in the country. However, I had feared that the cuts to the Supporting People programme were going to be greater, and it was good that the Chancellor specifically recognised this programme in his speech. On the ground the reduction in funding may be greater given that Supporting People will no longer be ring-fenced, and councils are having their overall funding cut by 7.1%.
There could well be opportunities for organisations such as BHT as new ways of working are expected. Local decisions on local policies and local delivery will allow charities and local councils to work together to meet the needs of communities. Charities like BHT can bring innovation and good practice and we can help to change and improve the communities within which we work.
We welcome the recognition that house building is needed – 150,000 new homes over the next 4 years. The government is looking seriously at how this can be funded through increased rents on new lettings. However, we are concerned that social housing rents for new tenants will be 80% of the average market rent. This will mean that these homes will not be affordable for the unemployed and low paid households with three or more children when a £26,000 cap on benefits payable to individual households is applied.
The question has to be asked whether such households will be able to afford rents in high cost areas such as Brighton and Hove. With the changes to housing benefit and benefit entitlement, I can foresee households with three or more children having to move out of Brighton, where they may have been born and brought up, to areas where they may have no connection, no family and no support, and where additional pressure will be put on local services such as schools and health services. We support the calls that areas like Brighton and Hove should be exempt from these changes.
We are concerned about what cuts will be made to Legal Aid. Details of these are to follow. There will be consultation on how to reduce the budget by £350 million. We hope that any cuts will not undermine our ability to provide advice and legal representation from our advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.
Other details will emerge over the next few days. For example, we have just heard that the restriction in housing benefit for those under 25 to the cost of an average room in a shared house is to be extended to those under 35.
Please comment on your reaction to the CSR and how you think it will impact on our clients, on BHT itself, and on the communities within which we work.