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Boost care funding or face crisis

By Cameron Watt

In spite of concerns around job losses, the national living wage (NLW) is surely a good policy. Some 10% of workers will receive a significant pay rise. However, sectors such as hospitality will undoubtedly struggle as the NLW rises to over £9 per hour by 2020.

Perhaps most deserving of a pay rise are care and support workers. In recruiting and retaining staff, charitable providers are competing with other sectors offering higher pay for less responsibility.

With our sector facing steeply rising costs, including the NLW, it is vital that government covers these to ensure care and support services remain viable.

The Health and Social Care Board indicates that the "regional rates" for residential care will increase by 5% this year. While not covering the full additional costs of the NLW, it is a step in the right direction.

In stark contrast, supported housing projects funded by the Supporting People (SP) programme have had their funding frozen for a ninth consecutive year - a real-terms cut of 25%.

SP enables around 20,000 vulnerable people to live with maximum independence in the community. For example, it funds wardens in sheltered housing, project workers in homeless hostels and supported living accommodation for people with learning disabilities.

Research demonstrates that every pound invested in SP saves the public purse £1.90, by reducing pressure on more acute public services. SP is also vital in delivering Transforming Your Care, the blueprint for health reform in which the home should be the hub of care and support.

Politicians recognise the value of SP services. It is, therefore, inexcusable that the Northern Ireland Executive is putting vulnerable people at risk by failing to adequately fund services.

Properly looking after needy people, as well as meeting the costs of the NLW, requires an immediate increase in SP funding of at least 10%.

Warm words are not enough. During this election campaign, parties must prove they are serious about keeping on Supporting People.

Cameron Watt is joint chair of the Committee Representing Independent Supporting People Providers

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