Unsuitable housing causing disabled people ‘physical and mental harm’, says Stirling University study

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IT’S stressful enough as it is, looking for a home, but for people with a disability a lack of suitable accommodation adds a further burden of emotional and mental distress.

Housing experts in Scotland have released the findings of an 18-month study, looking at the experience of disabled home-seekers, which details the toll it can take on their physical and mental wellbeing.

The research was undertaken by a team from the University of Stirling, Housing Options Scotland, and Horizon Housing Association; looking at the effectiveness of allocations and lettings practice for accessible and adapted social housing. While focused on Scotland, and its context, the Match Me report undoubtedly offers lessons for those elsewhere.

Match Me
Match Me study: (Left to right) Professor Isobel Anderson, Diane Theakston, and Julia Lawrence

University of Stirling researchers Dianne Theakstone and Julia Lawrence adopted a co-production approach, which is said to have ensured disabled people were closely involved throughout the study.

According to the study, of the 28 disabled home-seekers based in three local authority areas, who took part in the research, the majority received inappropriate housing offers, or no offers at all, during the course of the study.

During interviews with researchers, one participant seeking a more suitable home described how, even with a stair-lift installed in her current accommodation, she had to make eight transfers between chair, wheelchair, stair-lift and toilet – and back again – in order to use the bathroom.

“Disabled people’s extended lived experience of inappropriate housing, while waiting for a more accessible home, clearly causes considerable physical and mental harm,” said professor Isobel Anderson, who led the research team. “The key findings highlighted a proactive approach from local housing providers, yet distance between their aspirations and the experiences of disabled people.

“Disabled people and their families should have equal housing opportunities and the right to an accessible home in the community that ensures and protects their human rights. This academically rigorous report gives all stakeholders the opportunity and evidence to shape lettings policy and practice to optimise effectiveness in matching disabled people to suitable homes, as well as increasing our stock of accessible housing.”

Furthermore, the Match Me study also uncovered evidence that the assessment of the suitability of a property should not only consider the access and internal features of the home, but should also look at the accessibility of the external environment and the opportunities for the applicant to maintain local support networks.

Some disabled interviewees argued strongly that access to a garden should be recognised by housing allocation systems as a facilitator for emotional and mental wellbeing, and suggested that the needs of the entire household should be taken in to consideration – not solely those of the main applicant.

The final report is said to offer practical and policy recommendations to Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), local authorities, Scottish Government and the Scottish Housing Regulator linked to housing allocations, adaptations, design and new supply.

The research was supported by a research grant from the Disability Research into Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) programme. The organisation’s Bill Scott said: “Previous research has shown that inappropriate housing causes harm to physical and mental health and this research showed how the stress of the allocations processes and waiting times experienced by the participants could also be harmful to their wellbeing.”

Isla Gray, interim managing director of Horizon Housing Association, said: “We are grateful for the grant support of DRILL, which has allowed us to build on our scoping study, Matching Up, resulting in this report. The report provides substantial insight into the experiences of disabled housing applicants and practice improvements that can address the inequality of housing opportunities and outcomes that persist for too many disabled households.

“The findings will be useful for government, the Scottish Housing Regulator and to housing and service providers – as well as for health and social care providers working with disabled people.”

Moira Bayne, chief executive, Housing Options Scotland, added: “Serving over 600 disabled households in need each year, we see first-hand the impacts of effective allocations policy and practice, but also what happens where services have not been accessibly designed and are insufficiently flexible to deliver the individualised solutions often needed.

“We warmly welcome this report as an important resource for RSLs, local authorities and Scottish Government, who are working to increase housing supply for disabled people.”



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