By Oliver Townsend, Head of Partnerships and Practice at Platfform.
We are trying to do things differently in Platfform, as so many organisations are across Wales. The past ten years have resulted in rapid, positive practice and policy change in our country, despite huge and unprecedented financial pressures. I’ve been writing about some of these for years now, and with repetition they can lose their impact, but Wales has gone on an incredible journey within mental health, housing, and homelessness. A preventative Housing Act. A public sector duty for Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence. The world’s first Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. A social care act that places choice and control at the centre and gives a space for third sector and social enterprise. The Wales Mental Health Measure. These are all developments that could give us the apparatus to change the way people overcome tough times.
Increasingly, our movement towards being a trauma-informed nation has so much promise. The Trauma-Informed Wales Framework gives us a way forward to bring our public sector and beyond together around a shared understanding of how we respond to trauma and toxic stress – and how we need to build approaches to mitigate or prevent that.
At Platfform we are still on our change journey. We are trying new things and challenging misconceptions – especially around mental health. The recent Health and Local Government Committee report from the Senedd Connecting the dots: tackling mental health inequalities in Wales gathers together evidence from stakeholders across Wales, and drawing attention to the social determinants of mental health. People living with the stress of poverty and inequality, and/or who have experienced trauma, are much more likely to develop mental ill health. That is a natural response to those injustices, rather than a biological inevitability.
This means that our greatest tool to prevent mental ill health is equality, as Psychologists for Social Change have been saying for a long time now.
But it is hard for us as people, or organisations, in a system, to help bring change. Because we are all working in traumatised settings, often with a workforce who are experiencing the same inequality and toxic stress as the people we are trying to work alongside. A recent report by Cymorth Cymru shows that 44% of housing support workers are struggling to pay bills. 70% have stopped engaging in social activities. This sense of struggle and isolation in the workforce is clear, and without this security and safety for people working in these roles, there can never be the stability needed to change systems for the better.
It is why we have hijacked this Disruption Diary, a little. In Wales, we have the Housing Support Grant, a descendant of the Supporting People Programme, which over successive years has been maintained and ringfenced despite occasional attempts to weaken that. It has provided a dedicated fund for housing support and has enabled organisations and local authorities to rely on that as a way to prevent homelessness and maintain independence. When this ringfence was removed in England, services were decimated – so we know that it is important to maintain.
Funding isn’t important for its own sake. But the Housing Support Grant ensures that funding reaches people and services that traditional funding pathways might miss. The evidence that this happened in England is conclusive, and thanks to decisions made by the Senedd over the last decade, we still have this incredible resource in Wales.
This year, with cost-of-living rises becoming more and more unsustainable, and the pressures on those services increasing, we are joining the call by Cymorth Cymru to increase the Housing Support Grant.
This is not just about funding. This is about creating the secure, stable environment in the housing and homelessness sector in Wales, so people can deliver change that is needed. You can’t, despite the old metaphor, change car tyres when you’re still driving. We need to recognise that our workforce is struggling, many of them with the same inequality and fear as the people we work with. We need funding increased so that our sector can stabilise, adjust, and then get back to the work of delivering the system change we so desperately need.
If you can, please support the #HousingMattersWales campaign. You can find more information here: https://www.cymorthcymru.org.uk/en/policy/campaigns/housing-matters.