Blog by Councillor Elly Cutkelvin, Assistant Mayor for Housing and Education, Leicester City Council
Here in Leicester, we are on the verge of declaring a housing crisis; our primary focus is to create the right environment to enable a house building renaissance which supports the most vulnerable in our communities. But with an ageing population, over ten years of reduced funding, a pandemic, and now a cost-of-living crisis, our vulnerable citizens are getting more vulnerable and the more traditional housing solutions no longer suffice.
In Leicester we have nearly 700 properties in which people are being supported, this number is almost double of what we had five years ago.
We are proud of our strong track record of working in partnership to achieve excellent supported living and extra care developments, particularly those achieved with our housing association partners. Being a unitary local authority means we can bring Planning, Housing and Adult Social Care divisions together to work on a shared strategic vision. In addition to this, we have fostered vital relationships with our NHS mental health services and Criminal Justice system to ensure pathways back into accommodation are relatively straightforward.
Having said this, like other local authorities up and down the country, we are seeing a massive increase in both the number and the complexity of cases that are presenting. The need to plan for a different future is visceral; we need greater diversity and greater flexibility which provides real choice.
Public perception of supported housing developments has traditionally centred around the provision of accommodation for an ageing population.
Over more recent years we have seen a growth in working age adults with learning difficulties, physical and sensory disabilities and mental health issues who require lifelong support. In fact, the majority (89%) of the people we support here in Leicester are of working age and the average age is 43.
Locally, this has led us to develop a mixed age, intergenerational living model of supported living which has proved very successful. We are all aware of the transformational impact supported living can have, affording a level of independence which fosters good wellbeing and personal growth. A well-designed scheme attracts staff who are committed and invested in the residents, who care deeply for their every need and find joy in every success.
A more recent spike in need, and a very worrying trend, is for those citizens who are in acute need of shorter-term interventions. We have always needed places for those individuals fleeing domestic violence, stepped accommodation for those experiencing mental health or homelessness issues, and an increasing number of veterans who display with issues such as PTSD.
But post covid 19 and the government’s ‘Everyone In initiative’, the need to find solutions for a more complex cohort has grown. Placing these individuals into our more traditional homes on our estates without appropriate support is putting additional pressure on communities.
Our primary focus must be to design accommodation with appropriate support to help individuals regain and retain skills, confidence, and resilience to live as independently as is possible.
Continuing to push certain individuals into failed attempts of sustaining their own tenancy only adds to their distress and further erodes confidence – a policy that is designed to empower the individual can easily end up being corrosive. We need to accept that there are more people in society who need support.
Need to plan ahead
It is clear that the accommodation we have now does not cater for the emerging demand.
This need will be felt in every part of the country and the demand will manifest itself differently, solutions need to be found with local agencies to ensure we cater for local need. It is also essential that existing communities feel part of the consultation and design of new supported accommodation. If we are to build sustainable communities, we need everyone to feel part of the solution.
On the whole, our preferred model is for self-contained units in a core and cluster configuration, but where residents have access to shared community space and universal mainstream services. This can be achieved alongside every major development and needs to be considered in the very early stages of design.
My plea is simply this; do not consider these a nice ‘add on’ to developments that simply tick a box. We must consider creative designs which engenders an individual’s sense of identity and community, which in turn facilitates good health and wellbeing.
Supported living takes pressure off public services, saves public money and leads to much better outcomes where people are supported to live their lives to the full and contribute meaningfully to wider society.
Everyone deserves to have a place they can call home, a place they belong and feel safe.