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Fears millions of pounds of council cuts will increase homelessness in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:08 30 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:08 30 November 2016

There are fears that county council budget cuts will hit vulnerable people in Norfolk. Picture: Archant

There are fears that county council budget cuts will hit vulnerable people in Norfolk. Picture: Archant

Archant

Homelessness and rough sleeping in Norwich could rise even more through cuts which would take almost £5m out of crucial support services protecting vulnerable people - charities and council leaders warned.

What the county council says

A spokeswoman for Norfolk County Council said: “We intend to still continue to spend over £4.5m a year on housing-related services to support Norwich City Council, and the other housing authorities in the county.

“In addition, there has been a recent change in the funding regime which now sees capital funding being passed from the county council to the districts.

“County councillors have decided to consult on how the county council funding should be spent and what we are now doing is asking the housing authorities and other service providers, to work with us to find ways of using the millions of pounds of taxpayers money that are spent by all of us on delivering housing related services.

“There have been a series of events in which all seven housing authorities have participated. Providers have also been directly engaged to input and formulate potential new models that better use limited public funds in new ways. We’re also engaging with service users and the wider general public so they can share their views.”

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Norfolk County Council has revived controversial proposals, which had been rejected earlier this year, which would see millions of pounds taken out of the budget which is used to commission housing support.

Slashing the budget by more than a half would affect organisations such as St Martins Housing Trust, YMCA Norfolk and the Benjamin Foundation, which are commissioned to provide accommodation and support services.

And charities have called for the county council not to push ahead with the cuts, saying that their preventative services save money in the longer term.

Derek Player, general manager of homeless charity St Martins Housing Trust, said: “We think the Supporting People budget reaches hundreds if not thousands of vulnerable adults and provides very good value for money.

“Our particular concern is that the whole support system should be viewed as a whole and the dislocation of the system arising from budget cuts will be felt throughout the system.

“We are also concerned that the strain on services such as accident and emergency at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, on the ambulance service and the mental health services will be increased as a result of the support given to vulnerable adults disappearing as a result of this funding cut.”

Tim Sweeting, chief executive of YMCA Norfolk, said he understood that the council, in the face of government funding reductions, needed to make cuts, but that a wider view needed to be taken.

He said: “They are focusing on their statutory responsibilities and they see homelessness as a district council responsibility, but these services support people in much more than simply housing.

“It’s about supporting people in terms of their safety and their security and helping them to rebuild their lives. That makes them less likely to become involved with the police, the criminal justice system and mental health services.

“We helped more than 100 people get back into work last year and we need all public agencies to be working together. When the county council takes a single agency approach, it knocks out of kilter what is a very finely balanced system.

“We are seeing a massive increase in street homelessness and that will only get worse with the changes in universal credit and these cuts, if they happen. It’s a perfect storm.”

And Tony Ing, chief executive of the Benjamin Foundation, said: “More than halving the budget for housing related support for our service users would have a drastic effect. Whilst of course it costs money to deliver our services, without the work we do to prevent youth homelessness the longer term implications and associated costs would be much greater.

“We work hard to prevent our service users needing access to more costly interventions which definitely makes financial sense.”

He urged the county council to “rethink their plans to decimate funding for such invaluable and life-changing services”.

At a meeting of Norwich City Council last night, councillors warned the cuts could lead to more homelessness, rough sleeping and failed tenancies, with less help and support to stop people losing their homes.

The council approved a motion calling for its counterparts at County Hall to reconsider the proposed cuts.

Gail Harris, deputy leader of Norwich City Council and cabinet member for housing, said housing providers gave crucial support to prevent homelessness.

She warned: “All of that is at risk - and I do not use those words lightly or for sensationalist effect.”

Leader Alan Waters said rough sleeping in the city was at record levels.

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