THOUSANDS of vulnerable people throughout the Vale and across Worcestershire could be left to fend for themselves if Government cuts to housing budgets become a reality.

Women fleeing domestic violence, pensioners who rely on home-help support and people with mental health problems are expected to be among the worst affected as the National Housing Federation announced that, under instruction from the Treasury, it was preparing for cutbacks of up to 40 per cent.

Research by the federation, which represents the UK’s housing associations, stressed the effect of these cuts on the Government-funded Supporting People programme, which funds thousands of specialist housing-related services for vulnerable people via local authorities across the West Midlands region, would lead to: l the loss of home-based support for more than 38,000 older owners and pensioners living in sheltered accommodation •l the closure of hostels and outreach schemes for 1,675 homeless people l the closure of women’s refuges for 661 victims of domestic violence l the closure of temporary accommodation and outreach support for 866 young people at risk of homelessness Paul Williams, regional manager for the National Housing Federation in the West Midlands, said: “The Government has repeatedly said it wants to protect the vulnerable and yet these cuts would hurt many of the most susceptible people in society. It would also lead to increased demands on the health service, social services and the criminal justice system, and have profound social repercussions.”

A national evaluation estimates that the £1.6 billion spent annually on housing-related support through the Supporting People programme generates savings of about £3.41 billion to the public purse, by intervening earlier to prevent more severe problems arising. The federation has voiced fears that the cuts could end up costing the taxpayer an extra £1 billion a year.

Mr Williams added: “Supporting People services help hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people lead independent and secure lives, and saves the taxpayer billions of pounds through the avoidance of costly hospital admissions and recourse to other services.

“If the budget is substantially cut it will lead to many vulnerable people losing the support they depend on, with the result that they will no longer be able to lead independent lives and will increasingly have to rely on acute health and other services.”

According to the Department for Health, single homeless people use around four times more acute hospital services than the general population, costing at least £85 million a year.

However, Evesham’s MP Peter Luff this week refused to be drawn on the implication of the proposed cuts until he knows the details of the Government’s spending review in October.

He said: “Given the state of the country’s finances after 13 years of Labour extravagance, some very difficult decisions do have to be taken to avoid national bankruptcy.

“Understandably – and quite properly in a democracy – every group that fears it may be affected is making its case for special treatment.

“But until we know the outcome of the spending review process in October and get the implications for each department, we simply won’t know whether the fears of all the lobbyists are well founded or not. I certainly won’t be commenting on any of the speculation before then.”

Rooftop Housing Group is a large provider of the Vale’s social housing needs. It manages almost 500 units of supported housing for a diverse range of clients, such as those with learning disabilities, mental health issues or those recovering from addictions. In the past year it has also acquired G3, a Gloucester-based voluntary organisation that provides housing and support to more than 100 young people.

Juliana Crowe, director of housing and communities at Rooftop, revealed the organisation was “acutely aware” of the financial situation it now found itself operating in and had taken measures to protect its customers. She said: “Even before recent announcements we had put in place a programme to deliver five per cent efficiency gains across the whole group. This means that we have no plans to reduce either the quantity or quality of support that we provide.

“It is worth noting that funding from the Supporting People programme has never been guaranteed – we have always had to bid for it – and we will continue to do so.”