Kay Andrews on establishing a statutory duty for councils to plan for specialised housing
Politics, as a former leader of the Labour Party once said, is all about priorities. And it should also be about giving priority to people whose needs are evidently greater than others and whose potential is diminished because they are not met.
One of the many failures of the Housing and Planning Bill, currently going through a prolonged stage of Lords Committee, is that it marginalises those in real need and who cannot exploit market forces. In particular, disabled people – old and young – with mobility difficulties and whose outstanding need is for accessible and adaptable homes. There is no place for them in the debate on ‘starter homes’, let alone when it comes to planning for the needs of the whole community.
The fact is that the scale and depth of the problem is simply getting worse. The number of disabled people waiting for a home that meets their needs has risen by 17% in the last 5 years. ASPIRE has found that 86% of people with a spinal injury are unlikely to be discharged into a home that meets their physical needs. 300,000 disabled households live in accommodation which is simply unsuitable – according to Leonard Cheshire Disability. 24,000 wheelchair users are in urgent need of wheelchair accessible social or affordable housing. Many others need to be able to rent or buy homes where they can live decently and safely.
We all know that poor housing means poor health. But for disabled people, living in places which reduce their ability even further has a massive impact on their physical and mental health. This has been documented recently by Loughborough University and the anxiety, loss of independence and opportunity, and sense of despair is graphically described throughout the report. Tragically, 30% of the research participants revealed that they had even contemplated suicide. The extra costs to the NHS and the social care budget that follow from this failure are self-evident – including more weeks in hospital while awaiting suitable accommodation.
At the current rate of allocation, it will take six years for people on the waiting list to be rehoused. The 8,000 specialist affordable homes promised by the government will barely touch the problem.
For a start, councils should know the extent and diversity of need across their local area, so they can plan as best to meet it. My amendment to the Bill is very simple. It seeks to impose a duty on all local authorities to specifically assess the level of need for ‘accessible and adaptable dwellings’ and ‘wheelchair user dwellings’, and to then make this explicit in local plans. Doing so would establish a statutory footing for the future supply of what is desperately needed.
Baroness Kay Andrews if a Labour Peer and former Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government
Published 17th March 2016