Following last Wednesday’s budget our new Director of Communications and Fundraising, Jo Curry reflects on what the Chancellor said – and what he didn’t say.
In the midst of the election-orientated scene stealers – Help to Buy ISA’s, the increase in the tax-free personal allowance, the Northern transport deal – much of interest to the housing and homelessness sector went unsaid. There were some glimmers of hope; a small but significant reference to increase work to address the ‘£4.3 billion spent on failure to support troubled individuals’. This hinted at further recognition for comprehensive programmes like our Big Lottery-funded Fulfilling Lives partnership in Newcastle and Gateshead, which looks at fundamentally changing the systems which support people with the most complex needs. Ten mentions of the Northern Powerhouse, with associated transport and development powers went some way to acknowledging life outside London.
Ultimately the Chancellor’s was a budget without the substance or clarity organisations like Changing Lives need. The aim of eliminating the deficit by 2019 is based on drawing £18 billion of savings from non-pension spend – cutting more than 15% from the £74 billion benefit and welfare budgets. Whilst £5 billion or so will come from anti tax avoidance measures, a further £12 billion needs to come from welfare – putting the next big budget items like housing benefit, employment support allowance and disability living allowance in the firing line. Or squeezing the £72.40 job seekers are expected to live on even further.
Even the National Housing Federation expressed disappointment at an emphasis on more short-term initiatives, noting that the £2.1 billion proposed for Help to Buy ISA’s could fund the building of nearly 70,000 affordable homes. Over the last 4 years, local authorities have already absorbed 28% in budget cuts. Work by the National Audit Office estimates that Supporting People funds, the main source of local support for people experiencing housing crisis has dropped by a massive 45.3%. And these cuts haven’t been fairly distributed; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has identified that the most deprived councils have seen reductions of more than £182 per head compared to the most affluent.
These are the big issues the Chancellor didn’t comment on. For Changing Lives these reflect big gaps in the Government’s thinking about what our world could look like post-May – and more importantly more potential uncertainty for the 5,000 people who depend on our services every month.