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Councils can save cash through specialist and age-friendly housing

The Newcastle Labour Party manifesto (April 2019) set out an ambition for ‘More and Better Homes’. Within the manifesto there is an express belief that everyone should have the right to a decent home.

Data shows Newcastle’s population is projected to reach 311,300 by 2030 an increase of 12,400 on 2019 figures. The most significant feature in the population projections is the growth of people aged 65+ (21.5% by 2030). This increase will have implications for support services, extra housing, adaptions and other care related requirements.

Newcastle City Council has a strong commitment to ensure all residents have access to affordable housing, especially those who experience a long-term disability or who are vulnerable. Maintaining independence within a community setting has a lasting impact on mental and physical wellbeing.

For many people a move to institutional care can mean the removal of access to personal income, lead to deskilling and increase dependence. It is also more expensive in social care terms compared to providing the option of specialist accommodation.

Aligning housing needs and support services can create efficiencies and savings

Whilst population projections show an increase in the prevalence of people requiring specialist and/or supported housing, there is also a predicted rise in people living with a learning disability and/or autism. Similarly, a range of specialist accommodation is needed to replace outmoded provision, create efficiencies and savings via a better alignment of housing needs and support services.

A significant proportion of people with care needs, especially older people, enter residential care through crisis. Newcastle City Council is challenging the current care and support providers with a firm belief that suitable housing and housing services should be available to allow individual residents with care and support needs, either cognitive or physical, have a choice to maintain their independence and community links for as long as possible.

In helping to prevent, or at least delay, admissions to residential care, around 180 Assisted Living apartments, built over the past five years are estimated to have saved the Council around £300,000 p.a.

In addition, 235 new or remodelled sheltered apartments have been completed and a further 276 level access homes for older people. Over the next two years, a further 100 Assisted Living apartments are expected to be built (delivering revenue savings of circa £150,000) alongside 72 sheltered apartments and approximately 200 other level access homes.

Independent living is more than just a tenure type

Building new accommodation is only part of the solution to providing a first-class housing offer. This is why in 2019 we commissioned the Housing Learning Improvement Network (LIN) to carry out an independent review of the older person’s service offered by our Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO), Your Homes Newcastle (YHN). As a result the Housing Plus vision was developed with the following aims:

  • Making living easier, so customers can focus on living their lives to the full. 
  • Working with partners to provide services that reduce social isolation, meet the needs of diverse groups and sustain tenancies
  • Giving customers choice, independence and control; recognising there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to living a happy and healthy later life

Titled ‘More than just a roof’, this recognises independent living is more than just a tenancy, it is also important to tailor how people access the service, and the services that are offered, so that as needs change – the service offer changes.  YHN are working closely with partners to develop a more streamlined offer for customers, with a planned launch in 2020-21.

Newcastle is also committed to delivering a wide range of quality supported housing options for adults with a Learning Disability and Autism as part of a ‘continuum of support’.

Two models provide a real alternative to residential care and shared living. These are Community Cluster bungalows and Concierge Plus apartments.

  • Community Clusters provide bespoke care and support packages for up to six people within a ‘courtyard’ development,
  • Concierge Plus offers a mixture of housing, welfare and care support for individuals with less complex needs. 

These products enable people to live more independently in their communities, close to family, friends and established support and social networks. 

Over the last 5 years around 86 bungalows and apartments have been built for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, delivering estimated revenue savings of around £1.7m.  Over the next couple of years, a further 46 homes are to be completed, with further revenue savings of around £1.0m.

Looking and learning in the North East

Newcastle’s approach to people centred housing delivery for those with a specialist and supported housing need was picked up by the Housing LIN in the series of good practice examples. Particular praise was given for the older people’s housing scheme, ‘Tree Top Village’ in Walker, Newcastle.

Exclusively for people aged 55 plus, Tree Top Village consists of an impressive main building, offering 75 sheltered housing apartments, bordered by 36 one and two-bedroom homes and 8 bungalows with gardens, encompassing a restaurant and small retail, whilst providing a warm relaxed and friendly environment. 

Designed to become the centre piece of the wider Walker Regeneration Programme, the whole development went a through a thorough development process, which had at all stages, been influenced by the immediate community and potential residents.

In 2019 recognition of the work we do, and our partnering approach, Newcastle City Council was awarded for the second year running ‘Local Authority of the Year’ at the Northern Housing Awards.

This was in recognition of our partnership working and innovative approaches to housing delivery for all tenures and needs groups. Newcastle was shortlisted for the same award in 2020, but sadly all awards ceremonies were cancelled due the pandemic.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Councillor Linda Hobson</span></strong>
Councillor Linda Hobson

Councillor Linda Hobson was first elected to Newcastle City Council in 2011. She is the Labour Councillor for Blakelaw Ward where she grew up. 

A critical care nurse by profession, Linda is an elected trade union official, holding a number of roles within UNISON, including deputy Regional Conveyor.
Linda was previously the Cabinet Member for Adult Services and is now Cabinet Member for Housing.  

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‘Bleeding stump’ charge adds insult to injury

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

On top of the policies that have come out of Communities and Local Government department since the Election, which are bad enough, many people in the housing and local government world have been infuriated by the style of political argument adopted by Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps.  It all seems so unpleasant. 

Anybody with a contrary view is rubbished and serious debate about the huge and sweeping cuts to frontline services is reduced to a few soundbites about the salaries of some senior officers or a couple of funny-sounding job titles.  The fact that Tory and Liberal councils are making huge cuts to frontline services is brushed aside as Labour councils are denounced for making supposedly politically-inspired cuts. 

Shapps raised the political temperature by accusing Liverpool of a ‘disgraceful attack on the vulnerable’ when it made cuts to its supporting people programme.  This was believed to be not entirely unconnected to the fact that the council pulled out as one of the vanguard communities for the Big Society – because of the scale of the cuts enforced by the Government.  Last weekend Pickles accused Labour councils of adopting a “bleeding stump” strategy

According to the BBC, Pickles said that Labour councils are making bigger than necessary cuts for ‘politically motivated reasons’ and that he ‘is angry about councils publicising spending cuts and blaming them on ministers.’  Even his own coalition partners have had enough: last month a large group of Lib Dems complained about his approach and said he was engaged in ‘gunboat diplomacy’ with local government.

It is therefore good to hear that the Cabinet Secretary has officially rebuked the Prime Minister over the ‘unacceptable’ behaviour of Pickles’ special advisers and the way in which they brief the media.  Cameron has been told to ‘restrain his aides’.  Politics is a rough old trade, as they say, but this action appears to be unprecedented.  The Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell’s letter, according to PR Week, read: ‘This behaviour is unacceptable. I trust you will agree with me and take necessary action to make sure that people understand this will not be tolerated.’

All over the country Labour councils have been struggling with huge front-loaded cuts to their budgets.  There have been large demonstrations at many council budget-making meetings by community organisations seeking to save their services, and Labour councillors dedicated to serving their communities have faced impossible decisions.  Pickles ‘bleeding stump’ comment adds insult to injury and will cause enormous resentment.

It is probably unconnected, but last week I signed up to Twitter for the first time, only to receive an email within minutes which read “you are being followed by the Conservatives”.  It’s an alarming thought.