The Supported Housing Officer

“Instead of cutting front-line staff, why not cut the bloated bureaucracy?"

It might surprise you that I would welcome some cuts to supported housing, the area that I work in. That's because the sector - which deals with those aged between 16 and 25 who are vulnerable to homelessness, as well as teenagers in residential care homes - is wide open to abuse.

From what I have seen, a large number of the under-18s living in supported housing do so under false pretences. All they need to avail themselves of a room is an "estrangement letter" from their parents saying that the relationship with their offspring has broken down. However, once the youngsters have a foot in the door, their parents often seem miraculously to appear again. Last year, a resident who was supposedly estranged from her family went on a cruise around the Mediterranean with them. She and many like her are funded by the state at a great cost to taxpayers.

Then there is the overwhelming bureaucracy that social workers have to wrestle with every day. This, in turn, creates other jobs, such as client involvement officers, policy directors and quality assessment framework review officers. The proliferation of these jobs does nothing to help those youngsters who do need help to put a roof over their heads.

There are plenty of young people in supported housing projects who have no other choice at this point in their lives. The vast majority of them are well behaved and easy to work with, but many are forced to share their living space with people who display antisocial and criminal tendencies - and who invite others of the same sort on to the premises.

For that reason, and to deter antisocial behaviour, a 24-hour staff presence is essential in supported housing. We receive a great deal of verbal abuse and intimidation but we need to be there. Without our presence, these projects would become a haven for crime. Yet with recent changes to the administration of government funding - as well as the looming cuts to local authority budgets - many projects have had, or will have, their budgets slashed. At the last place I worked, the cuts were already taking effect: staff hours had been reduced, leaving the building unsupervised for long stretches of time most days of the week.

Instead of cutting back on front-line staff, surely it would make more sense to rein in the bloated bureaucracy that oversees these projects? But the bureaucrats are hardly going to put their own heads on the chopping block. None of this will be helped by the changes to the criminal justice system and the greater emphasis being placed on community service as a cheaper alternative to prison sentences.

Meanwhile, the politicians, policymakers and upper echelons of management in the supported housing sector will live far away, in upper-middle-class (or even upper-class) areas, where the effects of the cuts will be something that occurs on the evening news.

The blog by the social worker "Winston Smith", won last year's Orwell Prize. His book "Generation F" will be published by Monday Books later this year

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, State of Emergency