Friday, 23 October 2009

Housing Associations Interviews

Just a few 'snippets' from the above in which I was involved, to illustrate some of the problems, we the panel, face. A rather long post, but worthwhile reading it is suggested.

One housing association (nameless) stated in their submission "Our Housing Management services are based on a holistic model, with the focus on a neighbourhood or a local area." When questioned that if one accepts 'holistic' as meaning 'treatment of the whole as against the treatment of the individual parts', did that not constitute a contradiction - the immediate response was, in effect, 'Oops, agreed and I will find out who wrote that'. Whilst having a degree of admiration for the instant admission of a grammatical, and a 'Mission Statement' error, it is but another example of the mindset of housing associations. Because of 'constraints' placed on them by their governing body - and to a certain extent the society in which we now live - all submissions carry endless details of their compliance with 'ethnicity', 'diversity', neighbourhood cohesion' and 'programmes delivering results' that, like most non-governmental bodies, they have become so involved in the 'box-ticking' mentality they have lost sight of their core objectives.

Another housing association's Audit Commission report in 2007 stated "Estate services are variable and with no agreed standard"; "feedback relating to complaints have not been used to improve delivery" and "management of complaints are in need of development", whilst their in-house magazine for Summer 2009 stated "but we need to do better in looking after estates.........keeping residents informed and dealing with complaints." When querying that lessons did not appear to have been learnt after two years, the response was filled with phrases such as "action plans", "standards", "good practice" and "strategy plans implemented". Needless to say, the original question was not answered. 

The Audit Commission report for the same housing association stated "written communications to tenants is not always clear". It was pointed out to them that their submission was intended to be read by all tenants, a fact which they acknowledged, and was therefore addressed to people who had not worked in the last 10/20/30 years and were not therefore acquainted with modern 'bureaucratese', phraseology and 'management speak' and that phrases such as "The resident Involvement Team are developing activity to higher levels and ensure that staff and residents have the tools necessary to delivery [sic] outstanding community interaction." did not really convey anything to 80 and 90 year-olds. The response, by the MD, left the panel 'glaze-eyed', to the extent that one panel member promptly requested if that answer could be translated into English, or a 'bureaucratese/English' dictionary be supplied! 

The Panel sitting today was primarily concerned with one sheltered housing scheme and, amongst its members, comprised three tenant representatives. The question put to all three bidders today was that at the sheltered housing scheme in question there were old allotments which the tenants wished to re-activate - and which is something they intend doing in the next few days - with a view to providing free vegetables to the residents and to the elderly in the village and would the bidding housing associations be prepared to contribute financially to the initial start-up costs, as and when they took over - assuming their bid was successful. In each case the response was in the affirmative.

To explain further, this sheltered housing scheme is but one property in a total of 179 which the present landlord is seeking to 'off-load', the remainder being classified as 'General Needs'. It is obvious that because this sheltered housing scheme, comprising 22 flats and standing in a plot that would accommodate approximately 40 houses, the housing associations can foresee a nice redevelopment 'profit' and are not that interested in the sheltered housing scheme, per-se, and consequently would look to re-house the residents. These people are in charge of £multi-million organisations and yet not one of them realised that with allotments on the land, under current legislation, re-development was out of the question!

There is yet another element in this 'stock-rationalisation' exercise (the 'selling-off', by a housing association, of unprofitable schemes - in plain English!) and that element is 'Supporting People'. For those readers from abroad, or those unacquainted with the term, 'Supporting People' is the name of a central government programme designed to ensure that grants - given to local authorities - are managed and directed to those who need 'support', be that mental, physical or social. Up to April 2009, this amounted to £1.6billion per annum and was 'ring-fenced', which meant that it could only be spent on that specific area. But in April that all changed in that the 'ring-fence' element was removed, which meant that local authorities could spend their grant on whatever they wished. In Oxfordshire that grant was reduced from £21million to £7million, resulting in one gigantic headache for the County Council, which has to administer the 'Supporting People' programme.

It is a fact of life that as people become older a point is reached whereby it no longer becomes sensible for them to remain in their own homes due to their requiring a certain level of support. This situation can be caused by a variety of reasons; for instance, that they they would be unsafe if left on their own; that they have become bewildered and forgetful or have varying degrees of frailty. As a result people such as these move into what is known as sheltered accommodation, an environment which allows them to continue leading their lives with a certain amount of independence but also provides the constant presence of a warden, or scheme manager, who is there during the day to offer guidance and assistance. The salaries of a warden have, in the past, been funded by Supporting People, with some of the funding also paid by residents. As a consequence of the 'cut' in funding, mentioned above, schemes that were introduced, whereby the resident warden, or a warden who was present during the hours of 9am to 5pm, were removed and replaced by what is known as 'floating support' which meant that elderly and vulnerable residents were provided with weekly, or even monthly, 'visits' by a 'Community Support Officer' or 'Community Welfare Officer'. There have even been instances of elderly residents dying as a result of there being no warden present. In August 2009 the Observer had an article on the removal of wardens and highlighted the case of a 70 year old resident who died from hypothermia after falling in her sitting room, with several days passing before she happened to be spotted by a neighbour. The warden had been removed months earlier following a cost-cutting shake-up of housing support that saw visits cut from daily to monthly.

Needless to say, any suggestion that removing wardens is a cost-cutting exercise is disputed. Encapsulated within an article in the Witney Gazette, on 21st October, a county council spokesman was quoted as saying “a tendering process is currently in its early stages and no decisions on who would be providing future services have yet been made. Oxfordshire County Council's tendering process is seeking good quality independent providers to ensure current services are provided to modern best practice standards for those who require care and support wherever people live. The council does not award contracts on the basis of price alone and gives more weight to the quality of care and support provided.” Yet the paper also stated that OCC “would not comment on what changes would be made to the current system or whether it was down to cuts in Government funding.”. The paper also said that a letter given to a warden by a housing association employer on September 25 said the shake-up would allow the county council to “save money”.

As a further example of the 'bureaucratic-mind', requests to tender for this new process have only just been sent and the Oxfordshire County Council Tender Process Panel - wonderful title, is it not - will not be due to start deliberations until around Christmas time. This means that bidders and the panel are supposed to consider the subject of a new landlord for this sheltered scheme when probably the most important element is not known! You could not make this situation up if you tried!

To just revert to the question about the removal of permanent wardens, or scheme managers, many of the inhabitants of sheltered housing have no living relatives, or whose relatives live abroad and as a result the warden is their 'friend' or 'confidant' and is their only daily contact. Is this how you would wish have a relative of yours live - when you are old and in need of help, is this how you would choose to live?

Footnote: Whilst this is a long post and in no way fully covers all aspects of the subject, it was written to show how our society is now 'governed' by bureaucracy, staffed by those whose core object of their being employed has been 'lost' somewhere and to show how the elderly, some of whom do not appreciate what is happening, or understand what is happening to them, are being treated.


Anonymous said...

Well said Freeborn Englishman. What tripe is spoken on committees, these days, in respect of the elderly.

Personally it gets my goat to hear glib tongued remarks about demographic trends, institutionalisation, and of course moduals or are they moduels, or are we getting into clear blue water ? Or, are we talking about people ? Why on earth people in committees seem to think that they need a different language other than what they would use at home. Its absolute hogwash. I am afraid I have a rather nasty habit of asking people on committees what exactly do they mean when they use such phrases. Do that and you will realise that they can speak English afterall.

I will not go into your description of Floating Support you have already explained it very well. I might just add, however, that Floating Support is not a permanent service, nor is it a traditional Warden service. It is designed to solve a specific problem and when that has been solved the service is withdrawn.

The service is a duplication of what is already largely supplied free by the the age related charities and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The whole thing is one great big scam and is designed to save money spent on the elderly .

As I have oft mentioned in the past
'What other nation in the developed world is so mean as to save money on care for the elderly'

Well done blogger. Get in contact with me if you wish and I am mindful to cut and paste your article into the website. That would need your permission


Vernon J Yarker
The Sheltered Housing UK Association,

Witterings From Witney said...

For the benefit of readers of this blog I reproduce my e-mail to Mr. Yarker:

Dear Mr. Yarker,

Please be my guest. I would indeed be honoured - and I mean that - that you should consider my 'witterings' worthy of repeat.

As a matter of interest I am on the 'Oxfordshire County Council Tender Process Panel' and intend making 'as much noise as possible'. Whilst not personally needing a warden myself, many of my neighbours do being elderly, frail and on their own. I think it disgusting that 'The State' can even begin to think of introducing what can only be described as a 'fourth rate' system of care and support and would remind those doing so that, one day, they will be elderly and vulnerable too and I only hope that 'those in power' treat them 'pro-rata'!

Please feel free to treat those remarks as 'reproducable' also. You also have permission to use my name, if you so wish.

With kind regards,

David Phipps
aka Witterings From Witney