West Sussex County Council has been warned that there will be deaths if its plans to reduce housing support funding go ahead.
The chilling announcement came from a homelessness charity during a discussion about plans to reduce housing related support funding by September 2019.
The council had originally proposed to cut the entire £6.3m budget in 2019/20.
This was later extended by six months, and members of the health and adult social care select committee were told that the proposal was now to cut £4m from the budget by 2020/21.
An often emotional meeting in Chichester demonstrated that there were still huge concerns about the impact of the proposed cuts on the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Hilary Bartle, chief executive of the Stonepillow charity, told the meeting that the January to August time-scale set to ‘remodel’ the affected services was ‘challenging and unrealistic’.
She added: “The harsh reality of these cuts is there will be more deaths among rough sleepers, homeless people, young people, older people and those with mental ill health.
“At present, the average age of death for a rough sleeper is 47-years-old, and this is not acceptable.
“To cut and remove these services will mean more people on the streets, and producing much more death.”
The final decision about the proposed cuts is due to be made later this month by Amanda Jupp (Con, Billingshurst) cabinet member for adults and health.
When the threat of cuts emerged, many of the charities and organisations which would be affected got together to form a coalition.
Mrs Jupp said she had met with coalition members and was ‘encouraged’ that they recognised the need for some reform of the services ‘as well as their willingness to explore more efficient ways to deliver them’.
She reminded members that the council’s core funding had been cut by £145m since 2010/11, with West Sussex having made savings of more than £197m during the same period.
That still leaves a gross budget gap of £145m over next four years – and a legal requirement to set a balanced budget.
Her statement that district and borough councils ‘had primary responsibility’ for tackling homelessness did not go down well with some.
Sue Mullins (Lab, Northgate & West Green) said: “Our district and boroughs are all under extreme pressure, just like the county council. Extreme financial pressure – and their income is a lot smaller. It’s minuscule in comparison to what the county council receives.”
However, the meeting was told that all seven district and borough councils were willing to work with the county council and other partners ‘to bring about the best outcome for residents’.
The committee’s recommendation to Mrs Jupp called for a delay of up to one year on the plans, to ensure the best chance to remodel and preserve services.
They also called for the proposed £1.7m funding cut for 2019/20 to be ditched.