Charities have urged the government to take action on accessible housing as the number of households living in unsuitable homes in England has risen to one million, according to new figures.
Data released from the latest English Housing Survey found that 53% of households (one million) that required adaptations do not have the adaptations they need, up from 45% (864,000) in 2014-15. In addition, a third (33%) of households that required adaptations and had unsuitable accommodation reported wanting to move home.
The Centre for Ageing Better says the figures show the importance of ensuring that all new homes are built to accessible standards, with the government currently deciding whether to update building regulations to include higher standards of accessibility.
The charity says that following its consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes last year, the government must now strengthen mandatory building standards and factor this into the forthcoming National Strategy for Disabled People.
Emily Andrews, deputy director of evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Throughout the pandemic we have seen older and disabled people trapped in homes that don’t meet their needs – and unfortunately despite [next] Monday’s easing of restrictions, many clinically extremely vulnerable people will continue to spend most of their time at home.
“With an increasing number of people living in homes that don’t meet their needs, it has never been more urgent for the government to take action.
“Too much of England’s housing stock is poor-quality and inaccessible. We need to get our existing homes up to scratch, and ensure that all new homes are built to higher standards and able to meet the changing needs of the population.
“As the government prepares to publish its disability strategy, it must include concrete action on building suitable homes to meet the needs of older and disabled people so no-one is left trapped in a home that doesn’t meet their needs.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact of unsuitable and poor-quality homes, as a report last year found that only half of renters in the private sector felt safe at home during the first lockdown.
The Centre for Ageing Better has argued that despite COVID-19 restrictions due to ease next Monday (19 July), many older and disabled people are likely to stay at home for longer, with the NHS continuing to advise clinically extremely vulnerable people to continue working at home.
According to the English Housing Survey, the adaptations that households most commonly reported that they needed but did not have were external handrails or grab rails (10%, 195,000), hand or grab rails in the kitchen or bathroom (10%, 193,000), an external ramp (9%), a stairlift (8%), hand, grab or stair rails inside the home (7%) and a graduated or level access floor shower (7%).
However, almost one in five (18%) households who said they did not have all the adaptations they needed cited affordability as the reason for not making the necessary modifications to their home.
Commenting on the figures, Nick Apetroaie, CEO of accessible housing association Habinteg, said: “The figures released in the English Housing Survey clearly show a lack of suitable housing to meet the needs of older and disabled people.
“It has never been more important to ensure that all new homes are built to accessible and adaptable standards, given the number of people having to make do in unsuitable homes.
“Not only will these homes help make adaptations easier to install, it will mean that people can live in their homes independently for longer. These are ordinary homes with inclusive design features, meaning they are more adaptable to the changing needs of households and families over time.
“It is essential that the government now respond to the consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes – the wellbeing and livelihoods of older and disabled people depend on it.”
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “The number of accessible homes has nearly doubled in a decade and by 2021-22, the government will have invested over £4 billion into the Disabled Facilities Grant, an estimated 400,000 home adaptations – including stair lifts, wet rooms and ramps – helping people live independently at home.
“Councils are best placed to decide how much accessible housing is needed in their area, and set these requirements in their local plans.”
Image: An older man sitting on a chair at home. Credit: The Centre for Ageing Better/CC0 1.0