Housing reforms and cuts are creating ‘perfect storm’ for disabled people


Government cuts and reforms are creating a “perfect storm” that could see many disabled people losing their homes, according to a leading disabled campaigner and politician.

Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the Disability Rights Commission and now a Labour councillor in the London borough of Waltham Forest, said the cuts could see many disabled people forced out of homes that had been adapted to make them accessible.

Pye, who leads on housing for Waltham Forest and on equality for London Councils, told a meeting of the all-party parliamentary disability group that she was pleased to see the government maintaining spending on disabled facilities grants (DFGs), which pay for home adaptations such as ramps and stair-lifts.

She also welcomed the government’s new £300 million fund to provide more specialised housing for disabled and older people.

But Pye said funding for social and affordable housing had still plummeted, as had the proportion of new developments devoted to such housing in Waltham Forest, while many housing associations charged as much as 80 per cent of market rates to rent their properties.

This had led to “increased dependency on housing benefit”, at a time when the government will be introducing a new £500-a-week cap on benefits from next April.

Although the benefits cap does not apply to those claiming some disability benefits, including disability living allowance – which itself will see the number of claimants cut by 20 per cent – many disabled people with lower support needs will still be affected.

Pye said many could be evicted from their adapted homes and forced to move to new, cheaper parts of the country, and will then have to apply for DFGs “all over again”.

Many disabled people will also be hit by the new “bedroom tax”, which will see housing benefit cut for those with spare bedrooms, with many also affected by another new policy, with councils no longer forced to give lifetime tenancies to those found homes after being on their housing waiting-lists. Most London councils are now only awarding two or five-year tenancies, said Pye.

And from next year, those living with a parent in council housing – including disabled people in adapted, accessible homes – will no longer be awarded a tenancy automatically when that parent dies.

She said: “If you put all these together it does become a perfect storm. It will make life very difficult for many disabled people. Many disabled people will lose their homes and we will need a significant increase in the DFG budget to deal with this.”

Henrietta Doyle, Inclusion London’s policy officer, said the benefit cap and the bedroom tax were “really going to hit disabled people in London who aren’t covered by the exemption”.

She said many disabled people would lose the support network of friends, family and neighbours they had built up if they were forced to move to cheaper areas, with the subsequent costs simply passed on to social services.

Doyle said many disabled people could have to give up their job if they were forced to move too far from their place of work.

Mick Hutchins, public affairs officer for the Spinal Injuries Association, and a member of a local access panel in west Berkshire, said a recent meeting of the panel had discussed about 50 planning applications, while not one of the proposed homes was wheelchair-accessible.

He said: “The government are forcing councils to build so many houses. Councils have their hands tied to let developers do what they want so they can meet their quotas.”

21 November 2012