This is a book of stories – human stories and that of an organisation that serves them. Each gives meaning to the other. Like many good stories these describe journeys – complete with obstacles, mistakes and comings of age. What gives direction and momentum to Framework’s particular journey is the charity’s mission:
“To nurture opportunity and choice for homeless and vulnerable people through high quality prevention, housing, learning and support services.”
Simply – we exist to help people in need. This unites everyone on Framework’s journey. Our motivations can vary – indeed we may not always understand them. They include the spiritual, the political, a sense of community or Society (whether ‘Big’ or not!) and the private drivers of personal and family experience. Framework brings together people of all ages, backgrounds and world views in a common cause – to help those in need.
When they merged on 1 July 2001, Macedon and Nottingham Help the Homeless Association shared that purpose and it has been the touchstone for the journey ever since. The ten-year milestone we have reached is a convenient vantage point for looking back at the landscape traversed, and forward to unknown terrain.
“The new organisation will need to define itself as a key social entrepreneur with the goal of finding lasting solutions to homelessness”.
The journey so far
It is said that there are too many charities and some should merge – setting aside competing interests for the greater good. Some mergers don’t work but ours did – perhaps because the purpose and shared ethos were so clear. Framework has:
• enhanced the quality, quantity and breadth of its work
• established pathways of services to break the cycle of homelessness
• become increasingly professional and outcome-focused
• created models of support and care that are of national relevance, showing what public service reform can really mean in practice.
Our contribution to the reduction of rough sleeping in Nottingham, and across the Boroughs and Districts of Nottinghamshire, is second to none. The level of rough sleeping is an effective proxy for indicators of deprivation – housing, health, crime, education and employment: Framework helps those at risk of exclusion to achieve positive outcomes in all these areas.
Along the journey we have affirmed Framework’s charitable objectives and worked towards them with an entrepreneurial spirit. We have identified opportunities for service improvement while managing the associated risks. A wide range of partners, funders and supporters have been engaged in the process, some with their own priorities and goals. We have never forgotten that our mission is to help those in need.
Ten years of progress
Some time ago a couple of service users interviewed me for an article they were writing. Asked to describe Framework in as few words as possible I said “a down to earth, practical organisation focused on outcomes”.
We don’t fiddle at the edges of the social problems we encounter, hoping they will eventually disappear of their own accord. Nor do we lurch from one initiative to the next in attempting to align with changing political priorities and intellectual fashion. We are about saving tenancies, preventing repossessions and bringing people off the streets. We are getting them into homes, treatment, training and work. Ten years ago, we did not have the infrastructure or network of services needed to do this. Now we do, and it’s a massive achievement.
Clearly, the advent of Supporting People (SP) in April 2003 was a major factor in making it possible to deliver this integrated and effective provision. Another is the partnerships that have been forged – with local authorities, the health community, police, probation, central government agencies, churches and other charities. We are grateful to them all for sharing our journey, and proud of what has been achieved with them.
The cost and consequences of destructive leadership
This anniversary coincides with radical change in the political and financial environment. The road ahead looks very different from the one that Framework has travelled so far. Much of what has been achieved is now under threat. Change is both inevitable and welcome but avoidable destruction is not.
SP has been very successful, not only in bringing structured help to those who needed it most but also in saving public money. Several studies (notably the one by Cap Gemini in 2008) have confirmed this. A layperson would expect that having created a programme that improves outcomes and reduces cost (the essence of public service reform) central government would wish to sustain it.
For some reason the perspective from Whitehall, Westminster and even the local town hall is different. SP is being destroyed by the recklessness of politicians and the incompetence of civil servants. All three parties are implicated. Labour removed the ring-fence from SP, ignoring much expert advice and many representations from providers and service users. The Coalition has cut the budget and re-allocated it as part of a general redistribution from poor areas to rich ones. With nothing to protect the programme’s resources, the winners use the money for other purposes at local level while the losers cut services to the most vulnerable people.
The politicians and civil servants who are presiding over this destruction will no doubt cite the recession and associated public sector deficit as justification for their actions. They have no such defence. The decisions taken at central and local level about the future of Supporting People have little or nothing to do with the economy. They are unnecessary, ill-considered changes driven by arrogance and an unwillingness to listen. Our leaders should take the time and trouble to inform themselves about the consequences for homeless and vulnerable people. Reading the stories herein would be a good way to start.
What has gone and what else is at risk?
Handel Street Day Centre in Nottingham began in 1991. It provided basic services (shelter, food and sanitation) for homeless people with complex needs, with access to specialist advice, resettlement and healthcare services. Over 1,000 people per annum used the service until April 2011, when it was decommissioned by the City Council. Other services in Nottingham have closed, including supported housing for young women and former rough sleepers, and many more have been scaled down: these include floating support – a low-level preventative service delivered to people in their homes.
The reduction and closure of services is already having a visible impact. Informal street counts show an increase in rough sleeping over the past few months. Hostels are beginning to ‘silt up’ as people have nowhere to go, and more people are seeking immediate help by knocking on the doors of offices, churches and private dwellings.
Nottinghamshire County Council is proposing a huge reduction (around 43%) in its Supporting People budget over the next four years. The client groups who will bear the brunt of this are those which Framework has traditionally served. I am especially concerned about the loss of floating support capacity with its inevitable impact on levels of homelessness, rough sleeping, poverty, ill-health and crime.
Framework will continue to argue that the dismantling of services that demonstrably work is a false economy. Disproportionate cuts, targeted at the most vulnerable, do not merely harm those from whom services are withdrawn. They also increase the overall burden on the exchequer – an impact that is masked by the transfer of cost from one budget to another.
“Supporting vulnerable people is at the core of Framework’s business. The [aim of the] support Framework provides is… to achieve the goal of social inclusion.”
As our journey continues, the path is uneven and frequently hazardous, but not impassable. Big Society is replacing Big Government, but the problems of homelessness, vulnerability and social exclusion remain. The need for charitable activity is growing and with less money available for commissioned services, new streams of income will be needed to fund it.
To meet this challenge we will require more than ever the qualities of commitment, imagination and entrepreneurship that define our organisational culture. With an enduring commitment to its Nottinghamshire heartland, Framework has taken steps to secure as much as possible of its existing work. This has necessitated tough decisions – for instance about the salaries, terms and conditions on which our staff are employed.
In addition we are developing services in new geographical areas (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire), meeting a wider range of needs (for instance those of people with learning disabilities) and responding to emerging agendas (such as Personalisation, Care Pathways and The Work Programme).
Channelling concern into effective action
The American Cardinal Roger Mahony held that:
“Any society, any nation, is judged by how it treats its weakest members – the last, the least, the littlest.”
If this is true we can hardly cease to care just because times are tough. Under any circumstances Framework remains a channel through which concern is translated into effective action: in its work the charity realises the shared vision and purpose of those who gift their time, talents and resources in many different ways – individual donors, local businesses, churches, schools, service commissioners, staff, board members and all volunteers, and service users.
To all these and more we say a heartfelt “thank you”. We hope you take pride in what has been achieved. Please stay with us to the end of our journey, continuing for as long as it takes to help those in the greatest need.
Chief Executive, Framework