Housing strategy ignores urgent needs of disabled people


Campaigners have criticised the government for launching a new housing strategy without including any measures aimed at easing the shortage of accessible housing for disabled people.

The prime minister, David Cameron, and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, launched their Laying the Foundations strategy this week.

The strategy includes a “new deal on housing for older people”, to help them adapt their homes and stay independent.

But neither Cameron nor Clegg mention disabled people in their introduction to the strategy, even though they mention families, young people and older people.

And the 78-page strategy itself only mentions disability or disabled people six times, and offers no new measures to increase the availability of accessible housing for working-age disabled people, or to make it easier to secure disabled facilities grants (DFGs) to make adaptations to their homes.

The nearest it comes is to repeat a pledge to protect current levels of government spending on DFGs until 2014/15.

But the strategy fails to mention that the government decided last year that DFG funding would no longer be “ring-fenced”, which means local authorities have no obligation to spend the money on DFGs, which are used to pay for adaptations such as installing ramps or stair lifts, providing a downstairs bathroom or adapting lighting controls.

Paul Gamble, chief executive of Habinteg Housing Association, the accessible homes provider, said he had been unable to find a single mention of the word “wheelchair” in the entire strategy, which he said was “a glaring omission”.

He said: “We know that over 78,000 households in England are in need of wheelchair- accessible housing so we would like to see a target set for some of the 16,000 new homes mentioned in the strategy to be built to wheelchair-accessible standards.”

He said Habinteg was also “really concerned” that there was no mention of the needs of disabled people in the strategy’s discussion of the government’s HomeSwap Direct scheme, which aims to make it easier for social housing tenants to swap homes with people elsewhere in the UK.

Gamble said: “Finding work offers is hard enough for disabled people, but to be further disadvantaged by the need to secure accessible housing can severely limit opportunities to take up jobs when they do arise.”

Gamble said a “shockingly low” amount of wheelchair-accessible social housing is let to wheelchair-users, because of failures in the way vacant properties are matched to prospective tenants.

Habinteg is due to publish a report on 1 December which will recommend ways to make this process more efficient.

Gamble said he hoped the HomeSwap Direct scheme would “take a look at our findings and use them to make sure that the new scheme is able to meet the needs of wheelchair-users”.

The Communities and Local Government department declined to comment on the strategy’s failure to address the needs of disabled people.

23 November 2011

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