'We must tackle the hidden housing crisis for disabled people.'
As a new report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) calls for national housing strategies to improve options for disabled people, Sarah Davis says we need to act now.
The EHRC’s inquiry into housing for disabled people has reported, drawing on the experiences of many disabled people and it isn’t a positive picture. Our housing crisis is having a negative impact on many disabled people in what EHRC calls a hidden housing crisis.
With more than 13 million disabled people in Britain, and around 300,000 people of working age in England alone lacking necessary adaptation to their homes, getting an accessible home or an appropriate adaption is crucial; currently only seven per cent of homes have the basic access standards that make them ‘visitable’ by disabled people. Unsuitable homes mean many disabled people struggle to live safely and independently with dignity. It has significant economic impacts too; a disabled person of working age living in an inaccessible home is four times more likely to be unemployed. It impacts on use of and costs to health and social care services from the increased risk of injury, falls and accidents, for the disabled person and their carers.
So we need to look at the numbers and the standards of the new homes we build to tackle our housing crisis. More of the new homes we develop have to be accessible. So CIH supports the recommendation that the requirement M4(2) of schedule 1 of the Building Regulations (roughly equivalent to Lifetime Homes) is made the default standard rather optional.
It also highlights the need for stronger data to identify disabled people’s housing needs in the government’s new standard methodology for housing assessments. The draft NPPF and guidance recently out for consultation proposed a new approach to viability assessments which may make it easier for councils to require more accessible and affordable homes.
Although the need for new accessible homes is urgent, it is not only about development. We need to support quick and easy access to adaptations, as the timing can be critical in meeting people’s needs and preventing harm or further deterioration. EHRC calls for local authorities to address the hurdles and delays that can make this process difficult for people. There are some great examples of where streamlined and responsive services are working, but we do need to see more widespread adoption of this good practice. EHRC highlights in particular the problem for disabled people in the private rented sector to access adaptations; a recent report looked at this from the perspective of older people, flagging up similar problems. Given the increasing size of the private rented sector, which is housing many more diverse households, there are some real issues to tackle if this is to be a genuine and positive option, including length of tenure, the right to have an adaptation, and adaptations to common areas.
The report, and the short film accompanying it, illustrate clearly just how difficult it can be for disabled people to navigate the different systems to get the right home, whether it is finding a home to move into or the process of getting adaptations. Better mapping of adapted homes, accessible housing registers, and increased investment in advice and information services all need to be part of the wider framework to help disabled people find the home that is right for them.
EHRC’s report shows comprehensively what a difference suitable housing can make and how hard it is for many disabled people to access it. We need that national housing strategy to pull all of these strands together and provide the focus and drive to tackle this hidden housing crisis.
Sarah Davis is policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing.
- To read the full report click here