New Social Impact Bond (SIB) on multiple needs welcome, but must build on evidence

November 03, 2016

MEAM welcomes the announcement last week of £40 million across three new national programmes to prevent and tackle rough sleeping and multiple needs.  The three programmes are:

  • £20 million for local authorities to pilot new initiatives around prevention
  • £10 million to support people at imminent risk of sleeping rough or those new to the streets
  • £10 million in Social Impact Bonds to help long-term rough sleepers with the most complex needs

Most relevant to the work of MEAM is the new SIB, which will fund coordinated services for people with the most complex needs.  MEAM has been leading the development of coordinated interventions since 2011 and currently supports 27 local partnerships across the country – fifteen using the MEAM Approach and twelve as part of the Big Lottery’s Fulfilling Lives programme.

The new SIB is timely and we encourage local areas to explore the opportunities that are available. However, to be truly effective the SIB needs to be part of a broader strategy and must draw on evidence from existing networks, government programmes and research.  There are four things that we would urge government and the local areas applying to consider:

  1. Payment structures: Significant care will need to be taken to ensure that the payment models used in the new SIB are appropriate for the issues that it seeks to address. The draft ‘rates card’ in the prospectus currently takes little account of rewarding incremental progress, which is so vital when working with people experiencing multiple needs. We are pleased to see a commitment to discuss this rates card with applicants.  Evidence from the National Audit Office, the recent evaluation of the Troubled Families programme, and our work with people with lived experience all point to the challenges of using payment by results for complex interventions, and we would not want to see similar mistakes repeated here.
  1. Local partnerships: True cross-sector partnerships are a vital foundation for local work on multiple needs.  These take time to build and they can be both helped and hindered by the presence of money. We are pleased to see that the prospectus requires mental health and substance misuse support providers to either apply directly with the local authority or formally offer their support.  However, a major challenge will be ensuring that one local provider is not rewarded under the SIB for results that have been jointly achieved.
  1. Cohorts: The SIB is due to run for four years, but local areas will only be able to refer people into it for the first year and must work with cohorts of 100–350 people. Evidence from across the country suggests that it is very difficult to keep people with the most complex needs engaged over this period.  Drop-out rates are therefore likely to impact on payments. We would encourage local areas and the government to give much stronger consideration to ‘tranche cohorts’ if their aim is to support people over a four year period.
  1. Systemic change: If the new investment is to have a lasting impact, it must result in interventions that work with and for the wider system of support services that surround them. They cannot be layered on top. The risk for the SIB is that inappropriate payment structures, partnerships driven around money, and a cohort model that creates separated support structures in a local area could end up having a less-than-positive overall impact on long-term systemic change.

All the issues discussed above can be designed out, and we know that partnerships across the country are beginning to consider these issues in their applications.  We look forward to working with DCLG and applicants for the new funding to share our learning and evidence. We are pleased that advice will be made available to those selected and would be happy to discuss support opportunities with areas that are considering applying.

Applications for the SIB are invited by the deadline of 5pm on 28 November 2016 and the prospectus can be downloaded here