Disability on the home front: Don’t forget the victims of this hidden housing crisis

A human rights watchdog is calling for a strategy to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t forgotten when it comes to solving the housing crisis – they need suitable homes too

By Mark Cantrell

PEOPLE with a disability are desperate for a place they can call home. Too many are languishing in housing ill-suited to their health and mobility needs, prompting the Equality & Human Rights Commission (ECHR) to warn the situation effectively deprives them of their liberty.

In a stark report, presenting the findings of its 18-month legal inquiry into the supply of accessible and adaptable housing, the human rights watchdog has laid bare what it called a hidden housing crisis. The “chronic shortage” of suitable homes is compounded by a struggle with “unnecessary bureaucracy” to get even simple adaptations made to a property.

“As the saying goes: ‘home, sweet home’, but for thousands of disabled people across the UK, their homes create only a sense of being trapped and the cause of distress,” said David Isaac, the EHRC’s chair. “No one’s right to independent living should be limited by their home and making the necessary adaptations should never require lengthy waiting lists and result in endless confusion. Governments must take note of our recommendations and act now to address this hidden crisis that affects the lives of so many disabled people.”

The organisation claims that 365,000 people with disabilities feel their home is not suitable to their needs. But in England, only seven percent of housing stock meets minimum standards. Furthermore, it is claimed that many parts of the country have no clear picture of need nor any idea of how this may change in the future. The inquiry surveyed all local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales, and found that many had not collected data or met current demands.

This failure to gain a clear understanding of local need and set targets was a particular concern, the organisation said, since the number of people with disabilities is on the rise. An estimated 13.3 million people in Britain had some form of disability in 2016, it said; up from 11.9 million in 2013/14. However:

  • Only 16% of authorities felt their data estimating the number of disabled people living in unsuitable homes was good enough
  • Only 22% have a register of accessible housing
  • 55% did not include a target for accessible and/or adaptable housing delivery in their most recent development plan

The EHRC said it was alarmed that disabled people’s right to independent living was “heavily restricted” by unsuitable and unsafe housing. It’s not simply a matter of being housebound, either; in cases some people are bound within only part of the home. Either way, it curtails disabled people’s ability to move around and take an active part in the community, or access employment and education.

Unsurprisingly, then, it can lead disabled people, their carers and family members to experiencing a deterioration in their mental wellbeing.

Neil Heslop, chief executive of the charity, Leonard Cheshire Disability, called the report’s findings a “shocking indictment”, indicating how people with disabilities have “largely been forgotten” by both local and national government when considering housing priorities.

“All too often disabled people are living in homes that are grossly inappropriate for their needs, damaging their quality of life and limiting access to opportunities. This can have serious consequence for their health and ability to live independent lives,” he added.

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This research shows some of the fundamental issues we face on a day-to-day basis. Appropriate housing is key to independent living and creating choice and control for disabled people. But it’s also better for the tax payer.

“Better housing options mean disabled people are less likely to seek support from hard-pressed health and social care providers. The same is true if we develop ways to ensure the swift provision of aids and adaptations when people become disabled.”

The report calls on the Government to produce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of homes built to inclusive design standards. It also wants to see a review of the way these standards are enforced. Furthermore, both national and local government needs to improve the way it collects and shares data, both on the requirements of disabled people, and on the number of adaptable homes already built. Steps must also be taken to ensure the provision of specialist support and information services is available to the people who need them.

Sheron Carter, chief executive of Habinteg
Sheron Carter, chief executive of Habinteg

“Habinteg have been long-term campaigners for accessible housing standards and this report clearly shows the need for a step change in supply to meet the current and future needs of the population,” said Sheron Carter, chief executive of Habinteg. “The number of disabled people in the population is rising… We must ensure that the country’s ambitious build programme pays attention to the accessibility and long-term usability of new homes as well as the numbers delivered. Not doing so risks storing up a whole new housing crisis of a different kind in future, with impacts not only on individual people’s right to independent living, but also on the health and social care sectors.”

For its part, the wider housing sector has acknowledged the problems and agrees that more needs to be done. THE EHRC has shed light on an “often overlooked” aspect of the housing crisis, said Catherine Ryder, head of policy at the National Housing Federation.

“The idea that thousands of disabled people living in this country are denied access to a basic human right like living in a suitable home should shock people,” she added. “We strongly support the call for a long-term strategy to ensure disabled people have access to a home that meets their needs.”

Terrie Alafat CBE
Terrie Alafat CBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing

Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “This report highlights a worrying lack of suitable housing options for disabled people. We are currently not building anywhere enough homes to meet the huge demand for housing, but this report once again shows that this is not a numbers game. We have to build a significant number of new homes, but we have to make sure they are the right homes, in the right places and that people can afford them. Accessibility must be a crucial consideration for the Government as it looks to solve our housing crisis.”


This article was originally published in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine #1 Summer (July) 2018

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