Concerns over green paper’s ‘chilling’ failure to address accessible housing crisis

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The government has been criticised by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after its new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.

Only three months ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs, with one-third of those in private rented accommodation and one-fifth of those in social housing living in unsuitable properties.

EHRC called in its report for the government to draw up a national strategy to ensure an adequate supply of new homes built to inclusive design standards.

But this week’s social housing green paper, described by communities secretary James Brokenshire as a “new deal” for social housing residents – those who pay rent at below market levels – does not mention accessible housing once.

The word “accessible” only appears in the 78-page document four times, on each occasion relating to the need for accessible information or complaints procedures.

The green paper does refer to supported housing, which it explains has a “key role to play” in supporting minority groups including people with mental ill-health, learning difficulties and other disabled people.

But there are no proposals to improve supported housing, other than referring to a U-turn announced last week, in which ministers said that it would continue to be funded through the social security system rather than being devolved to local authorities as originally planned.

The green paper also mentions an ongoing review of the disabled facilities grant (DFG), which provides funding to make disabled people’s homes more accessible, for example by widening doorways or installing ramps, and which will see spending increase from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

But there are no new proposals for increasing the supply of accessible housing, or even requests for ideas on how the accessible housing crisis could be addressed.

Ellen Clifford (pictured, right), campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said that reading the green paper and realising its failure to mention the crisis in accessible housing – despite the conclusions reached in the EHRC report – had been a “chilling” experience.

She said: “Despite the fact that disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in social housing, that over half of all households in the social housing sector have disabled members and that according to the EHRC report there are around 365,000 disabled people in England with unmet housing needs, with one in five disabled people in social housing living in unsuitable accommodation, the new green paper on social housing fails to mention the crisis in accessible housing at all or offer any solutions to it.”

She added: “The paper refers a number of times to the Grenfell tragedy but fails to mention the numbers of disabled tenants housed there, a number on upper floors who were unable to escape, due to the chronic lack of accessible housing that is a problem across Britain.

“The chilling part is that the only mention of meeting disabled people’s housing needs or of accessibility comes through the government’s commitment to invest in supported housing.

“The recent government announcement on increased funding for supported housing states that a unit within such housing will ‘have its own front door’, as if to detract from what this represents, which is ghetto-isation and re-segregation of disabled people.”

EHRC told Disability News Service that it was concerned and disappointed by the green paper’s failure to address the “chronic shortage” of accessible housing.

An EHRC spokeswoman said in a statement: “Almost half of social housing is occupied by disabled tenants or those with a long-term illness and their needs must be specifically reflected in the green paper.

“The ambition to empower tenants is welcome, but we are disappointed that specific initiatives for disabled people and the need to address the chronic shortage of accessible housing are not mentioned.

“We will be responding to the consultation and discussing the proposals directly with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to raise our concerns.”

The green paper offers five “core principles”: a “safe and decent home”; “swift and effective resolution” of concerns about the safety or standard of a home; “empowering residents” and ensuring landlords are held to account; tackling the stigma of living in social housing; and “building the social homes that we need and ensure that those homes can act as a springboard to home ownership”.

But although prime minister Theresa May says in a foreword that the government is “committed to getting more of the right homes built in the right places, sold or rented at prices local people can afford”, the green paper provides few if any firm proposals.

Instead, it includes a series of questions to be answered through a public consultation – which closes on 6 November – although none of them relate to accessible housing.

Although it was not mentioned in the green paper, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced this week that it was extending funding for its Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund (CSSHF) for another three years.

CSSHF received £315 million in its first five years (£63 million a year) and produced about 3,300 accessible “supported or specialised” properties suitable for disabled and older people.

Funding will now rise to £76 million a year for the next three years, with DHSC expecting “thousands” more homes to be built.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) failed to explain the failure to mention accessible housing in the green paper.

Instead, she pointed to the reference to the DFG review, and added: “We realise many disabled people face challenges in their daily lives, but we’re clear that their homes should not cause them problems.

“Our green paper sets out our plan to tackle stigma and ensure social housing can be a stable base that supports people when they need it.

“Our new planning rulebook also makes clear that councils must take the needs of the elderly and disabled people into account when planning new properties.”

MHCLG also said that as design of homes was at the heart of the green paper, that would include making sure properties were suitably accessible.

And it said that disabled people were among nearly 1,000 residents who took part in 14 engagement events around the country leading up to the green paper.

 

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