Business as usual?

Housing, Care and Support

ISSN: 1460-8790

Article publication date: 23 May 2011



Johnson, R. (2011), "Business as usual?", Housing, Care and Support, Vol. 14 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Business as usual?

Article Type: Editorial From: Housing, Care and Support, Volume 14, Issue 2

“Business as usual”, the shop window signs used to read, “during the Blitz”. A somewhat similar mood appears currently to have descended upon the supported housing sector. We have seen the first shockwave of Supporting People cuts ripping through frontline services for the most vulnerable, and we are promised reforms to both housing tenure and housing benefit: between them a triple “whammy” for the social housing sector and beyond. Amidst talk of a prolonged or even a “double dip” recession, the public sector is still expected to bear the brunt of the “adjustment” and an eruption of riots suggests that disaffection and dissent may not always go through the agreed consultation channels. In the background, a demographic timebomb ticks away, with increasing age and dependency to be managed in the community – which means, at home.

Meanwhile, we carry on. Peter Cockersell’s paper for this issue describes the approach that St Mungos hostel services are adopting, to squeeze the most from limited funding by looking again at what a hostel provides, not merely in personalised support to individuals, but in offering a whole environment which can and needs to be fully geared towards supporting change and recovery.

The concept of a “psychologically informed environment” was originally developed for the guidance on meeting the psychological and emotion needs of people who are homeless, which was published by the Dept. of communities and local Government in June 2010. It might be seen as articulating the emotional counterpart to the capital investment of Places for Change to improve the physical condition of hostels. There is further work being done currently to flesh out the principles behind the developments of “PIEs”; and we will hear more of this in the months and years to come.

It is important to recognise and develop the full potential in the day-to-day life of a hostel setting for working with the most vulnerable and marginalised. But we must also recognise that a high and perhaps rising proportion of those at risk of marginalisation and eventual exclusion will be living in ordinary general needs housing – where they can get it. Seeking new ways to engage the more “hard to engage” is the theme behind the Birmingham University team’s evaluation of the efforts of Whitefriars Housing Association to open new channels to communicate with younger tenants.

The use of new media to communicate and engage young people is also at the centre of Jan Dekelver’s paper on the Incluso study. This paper is based on a presentation that he gave at a conference on tacking youth homelessness with a European perspective. Although the Incluso project was not specific to housing or to homelessness, the relevance is clear, and we publish his summary of the project’s findings, as it echoes the key themes of new media, approaches to engagement and resourcefulness to tackle exclusion.

Equally creative in thinking afresh about the best use of limited resources is Vicky Palmer’s account of her work with the MARS – the second in our series of papers in which staff are invited to describe their work through a typical few days. One of the many interesting features of the MARS approach is that it deliberately knits support together with the housing offer, after a period when providers have been encouraged to de-couple support and housing services, in the name of offering choice.

But this was broad-brush, catch-all policy-making; and the success of MARS suggests that a more fine-tuned application of such principles may be overdue. The MARS scheme has been nominated for several awards, and has caught the eye of government, just as the St Mungos work on PIEs has been recognised in several policy documents – on homelessness, and also as an example of “Inclusion Health”.

What might we conclude from this? Partly perhaps that the new government is as keen on supporting innovation in engagement as the previous was.

Another theme taken on and taken further by the new government is that of localism, with local needs assessment, local commissioning, local relevance and local feedback. A more “hands off” approach to centralised planning makes it all the more important that there is good information-sharing between examples of creative practice across the country as a whole.

With this journal, we will continue to promote examples of positive practice, whether formally and independently researched and peer reviewed, as with the Birmingham paper and the Incluso study, or with the immediacy and vitality of provider-side accounts, as with the Mungos and MARS papers. For those that have a good story to tell, we are open to new contributions. Meanwhile, as I type, the coffee mug on my desk tells me, “Keep calm and carry on”.

Robin Johnson

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