Thursday, 3rd August 2017

This could make you weep! Cutting Housing Related Support and other nightmares.

I am beginning to understand a little bit more about the potential impact of the cuts proposed to Housing Related Support funding.

The worst impact could be felt by vulnerable people who would struggle to engage with services without support- those might be people in rented accommodation with mental health or other health problems, who without the support which an organisation called Parashoot provides would struggle to maintain their tenancy, as they frequently need to apply for Universal Credit.

This new benefit system has now come to Caterham (it is being rolled out gradually across the country) and it represents a very significant challenge for vulnerable people- the very people it is there to support.

For a start, in order to apply for Universal Credit an applicant must have an email address. Think about that. To apply from home you need a computer and broadband- not always easy in a rented block. To complete a Universal Credit application takes an able person two hours; the application must be completed at one sitting as it cannot be saved and returned to. If the applicant has to use a library to get internet access, he/she must have all the appropriate documents to hand (and of course they may not know what all the appropriate documents are) or they will have to go home and get them, return another time and start completely afresh. Failure to secure Universal Credit could mean they lose their tenancy, and become homeless- possibly not for the first time.

The support worker for whom Housing Related Support pays will sit with the applicant, encourage and support them, and ensure the on-line forms are filled in properly, thus securing their well-being. To quote from Tandridge’s official response to the “consultation”, “Over the life of the service, the Parashoot floating support service alone has supported over 1200 clients at risk of losing their home. Without this support, many people would have been evicted and be faced with homelessness.”

I am not sure how people who need the service would manage without it. I can imagine the waves of despair impacting on our most vulnerable residents.


The Rent Gap

Such despair need not impact only on those whom we have considered vulnerable, but on hard working families, just managing on a low income. Significant numbers of families in Tandridge are falling into rent arrears as the £1300 monthly rent bill for a two bedroom flat is beyond what they can earn, and they too need to turn to the benefit system. They live with the fear of eviction and not having enough to feed their children.

The reality in Tandridge, in Surrey generally, is that the gap between those of us who have enough, and those who don’t, is a dark shadow which lurks hidden in our communities. Housing officers, support agencies and charities help to keep these families afloat, so their children can go to school and have a roof over their heads. I salute the tireless work those agencies do; I despair that the funding which allows the most vulnerable to be supported to navigate a hostile and overly complex system will be withdrawn, and I have no idea how those people will cope.

I can try to fight this decision, which will be taken in September, but I will fail to overturn it. When I think of the waste in Surrey County Council, the bloated staffing, the empty unsold properties (Dormers is still empty- I am counting the days!), inefficient planning and wasted energy, I can either consume myself with a self-destructive rage, give up or find the steel to swallow the outrage and carry on.

I will do the latter of course, but life as a County Councillor would be a lot easier if I didn’t care. Of the 81, I wonder how many do? If only half of us did you would think we could sort this out wouldn’t you.

While I am loosely pondering on the subject of mental health, I am pretty upset about the latest Eastenders story line, in which a disturbed mother has taken her badly burnt daughter from hospital in some insane effort to look after her- or worse.

In an age when we hear so much rhetoric about mental health having equality of importance with physical health, and calls for the stigma to end, it is very irritating to find an influential story line depicting a vanishingly rare behaviour which can only stigmatise further those who suffer with mental health problems. It is hard enough as it is, without further depictions of loony behaviour.

Speaking of stigma, it is ironic that the worst episode of being stigmatised I suffered was at the hands of an NHS nurse, who was worried that if I worked in the NHS I might be the next Beverley Allit, a nurse who killed four children in 1991 while nursing them, by administering large doses of insulin.

I had lost my career as a Headteacher through a very severe breakdown, and was looking to rebuild my life by having a second career in the NHS. The Occupational Health nurse nearly sent me back to oblivion, but luckily the Consultant who saw me wished me luck in my new career. Thankfully my career there was successful. I don’t know too many people who have built a second, high level career after a severe breakdown. Stories like that never appear on television. Perhaps it’s time they did.