Richard Harral, CABE’s Technical Director, says that building more accessible housing is vital, but that is only part of the story
It is unarguably the case that housing provision for disabled people and to meet the needs of an ageing population (which includes a significant proportion of disabled people) is inadequate. It is vital for local and central government policy to ensure that housing markets deliver a diverse range of housing choice, so everyone can find a home that meets their needs. In particular:
- households including a disabled person need suitable accommodation to live on a fair and equitable basis
- working-age disabled people need mobility to find employment – this includes being able to find accessible properties wherever they may need to move to in order to find work
- older households want homes that enable them to be active – independently or otherwise – within their communities
- local and central government need to find ways to mitigate the adult social care and health costs associated with an ageing population.
The government’s most recent consultation (bit.ly/AccessibilityConsult) suggests that the number of accessible homes that will be built is likely to change for the better. However, building accessible homes is only part of the solution – unless the information, finance and support is available to help people move into these new, more accessible homes, the benefits of improved provision risks being significantly diluted.
In a development of 100 homes, based on the national demographic, around 20 households would include someone with a disability. Of those, around half (ten households) would include someone with impaired mobility requiring use of an assistive aid, ranging from a walking stick to a wheelchair; with three of these households including a wheelchair user. Around 25 households will have a member older than state retirement age, with around half of these also including a person with a disability (ie overlapping with the impaired mobility households previously mentioned).
In practice, the first cohort of occupants may have a much lower incidence of impaired mobility and age-related ill health. In 2015-16, of the proportion of new builds bought by first-time buyers, for example, only 3% were aged over 55. Given that people now stay in their homes for an average 17 years, those initial occupants could remain there for some time. Simply put, without additional policy interventions, most of these new homes are likely to be occupied for decades by younger and healthier households before their accessible features are used by people who need them.
More can and should be done to marry more accessible housing with households that will benefit. This could include a requirement to record the accessibility of homes in Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and marketing data; programmes to assist disabled people to afford deposits, mortgages and rents where these are higher; support for older households to deal with the legal and physical challenges of moving home at a time when their health may be failing; and additional funding for adaptations that will still be required to meet individual need, delivered through a rapid home improvement service.
Once enhanced accessibility standards become the norm, these additional interventions are likely to be highly effective. They will improve housing choice and opportunities, particularly for working-age disabled people. In turn, this will reduce the load on health and social care systems by enabling longer-term independence. They will also transform housing options for our ageing population.
However, one cause for concern in the government consultation is the lack of a stated preferred option, or any attempt to monetise social benefits – usually standard requirements for new regulatory policies. This could suggest that the government is not serious about taking these proposals forward, or at least that considerable further work remains to be done. It is possible that Covid-19 has laid bare the need to address longstanding deficits in the quality of our housing provision, and that regulatory policy is being relaxed in the national interest. Let’s hope this is the start of that next big step forward in accessible housing provision, as government has certainly raised expectations with this consultation.