This essay examines the Supporting People programme, a scheme introduced on 1st April 2003 with the aim of addressing the housing needs of society’s most vulnerable individuals (Supporting People, 2009). Firstly, the programme will be described, followed by a focus on how it actively seeks to involve individuals with disabilities and complex health and support needs to be involved in their support and care arrangements.
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The Supporting People programme is a decentralised programme delivered through 152 authorities and by voluntary, community, and housing associations. At any one time, the programme can be supporting as many as one million people from a range of disadvantaged groups. Service users include older people, the homeless, those with mental health issues, and women at risk of domestic violence. The Supporting People Quality Assessment Framework (QAF) agreed a new core objective that would focus on service user involvement and empowerment. This objective is aimed at cutting across all core objectives and involves a commitment to supporting independence, informed choice, consulting with service users, and offering opportunities to be involved in the running of the Supporting People services. Some of the service user involvement initiatives currently underway are discussed throughout this essay.
Sitra, a registered charity offering policy, training and consultancy for housing with care and support, are a charity who are “working closely with central government and national bodies to ensure that the views and perspectives of the sector, and the vulnerable people that it supports are represented and understood” (Sitra, 2011a, p.1). In their efforts to achieve this, they have introduced the concept of ‘partnership’ working between organisations and service users. Partnership working is aimed at involving and empowering people in improving services and the experience of using them. This actively supports the governments Personalisation Agenda, which places a huge emphasis on the inclusion of service users in the design and delivery of services (Dickinson and Glasby, 2010).
Sitra also run two training courses in client involvement, which are ‘co-produced’ and ‘co-delivered’ by staff and service users. One of the training programmes is entitled ‘Client Engagement: Getting the Thinking Right’ (Sitra 2011b). This course is designed to challenge organisations to find new ways of working that encourage and actively seek to involve service users. A second training program, entitled ‘Client Engagement: Making it a Reality,’ emphasises how the way staff communicate, listen, gather feedback and involve service users has an impact on service user involvement (Sitra, 2011c). Through such training programmes, organisations are provided with ideas and models for service user involvement.
At a local level, Westminster have been involving service users in their support and care arrangements via the Mental Health Service Users Panel (Supporting People, 2007). The panel comprises a group of service users who work with the council in the planning and development of present and future housing projects to meet the needs of local people. Initiatives such as this one directly support the Tenants Services Authority (TSA), which has highlighted service user participation as a key component for Registered Social Landlords (TSA, 2008). Indeed, under the Supporting People Quality Assessment Framework (QAF) housing related support and care providers are now required to place service users at the centre of their strategic plans in efforts to demonstrate quality service provision and achieve level A standard (i.e. evidenced examples where no standards score C). Even to achieve level C (minimum required standard), providers need to demonstrate that they have fully engaged with service users (TSA, 2010).
Another local initiative demonstrating how the Supporting People programme has been working towards service user involvement is NOAH Enterprise (Gill, 2010). NOAH Enterprise is a charity based in Luton (Bedfordshire) designed to help people who are homeless or contending with issues around exclusion. Service user involvement is claimed to be an integral part of the “way of life” at NOAH Enterprise, with examples being that service users are involved in helping in their Welfare Centre or at retail outlets. There is also the opportunity to learn transferable skills in workshops, thus empowering service users towards independence. Every volunteer and service user who helps NOAH Enterprise over a 3-month period receives a certificate of achievement, thus demonstrating the active encouragement of service user involvement.
There are also a number of events that have been organised around client involvement, including a client involvement conference to be held in mid-2011 (Sitra, 2011c). This conference has been co-organised by staff and service users, demonstrating new ways of working together in partnership being put into practice. A similar conference was held in January 2010, which included participation and presentations from both staff and service users.
One problem confronted by the Supporting People programme in their service user involvement efforts has been lack of support from some tenants, especially in sheltered accommodation (Audit Commission, 2009). However, regular audits conducted since the inception of the Supporting People programme have primarily highlights the benefits of these service user involvement initiatives. Such benefits include improvements in tailored support through active service user involvement (Audit commission 2005). The Audit Commission report that the Supporting People approach to service user inclusion and staff and service user partnership has helped move many providers from a more paternalistic approach to one where service users are able to influence services. Furthermore, increased service user involvement was a key feature of those authorities who received higher inspection scores. Such findings are supported by an evaluation conducted by Cameron et al. (2007) that found that integrating services to support people with complex needs is most effective when the service is determined by the characteristics of the service user.
Audit Commission., 2009. Supporting People Programme 2005-2009. [online]. Available from: http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Downloads/spprogramme200509acfinalreportclg.pdf [cited 03 April 2011].
Cameron, A., et al., 2007. The challenges of joint working: lessons from the Supporting People health pilot evaluation. International Journal of Integrated Care, 7, 1-9.
Dickinson, H. and Glasby, J., 2010. Third Sector Research Centre Working Paper 30 The personalisation agenda: implications for the third sector. [online]. Available from: http://www.tsrc.ac.uk/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=U8tazrnMZ%2Bs%3D&tabid=500 [cited 03 April 2011].
Gill, S., 2010. Positive outcomes and service user involvement. Bulletin. NOAH Enterprise.
Sitra., 2011a. [online]. Policy and public affairs. [online]. Available from: http://www.sitra.org.uk/policy_and_public_affairs/ [cited 03 April 2011].
Sitra., 2011b. Client engagement: getting the thinking right [online]. Available from: http://www.sitra.org/1230/ [cited 03 April 2011].
Sitra., 2011c. Client involvement in housing support and care: Sharing and learning good practice. [online]. Available from: http://www.sitra.org/client_involvement_conference/ [cited 03 April 2011].
Supporting People, 2007. Supporting people newsletter. [online]. http://www3.westminster.gov.uk/docstores/publications_store/Supporting%20People_V6.pdf [cited 03 April 2011].
Supporting People, 2009. The Supporting People Programme. Thirteenth Report of Session 2008-09 Volume I, House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. London: The Stationery Office Limited.
Tenant Services Authority (TSA), 2010. Quality Assessment Framework (QAF) Regulatory framework for social housing in England from April 2010. [online]. Available from: http://www.tenantservicesauthority.org/server/show/ConWebDoc.20175 [cited 03 April 2011].
Tenant Services Authority (TSA), 2008. Regulatory guidance for registered social landlords. [online]. Available from: http://www.tenantservicesauthority.org/server/show/ConWebDoc.15355 [cited 03 April 2011].
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