How can we solve the housing crisis for disabled people?

A woman leans on a table next to a young man

Today sees the publication of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), following their inquiry into the availability of housing for disabled people. It highlights a ‘housing crisis’ caused by the lack of accessible and affordable homes, delays in installing home adaptations, and a general lack of support to enable disabled people to live independently.

The impacts of this can be wide ranging and affect independence, employment, relationships, health and social care needs, and more. Many of the findings in this report echo the experiences of families we spoke to as part of the research by Sense for our When I’m Gone campaign.

A man leans back on his chair at a kitchen table. Behind him sits a young woman

Solving the housing crisis for disabled people isn’t just about the physical accessibility of housing

We estimate there are 1.7 million disabled adults in England who are being supported by friends or family. With increasing pressures on social care, this is likely to increase. Research published by the Care and Support Alliance this week found that nearly half of people with care and support needs are having to rely on friends and family due to a lack of social care support.

Although many disabled people with complex needs will live independently, many others remain in the family home well into adulthood. As a result, family carers often continue to provide a high level of support for their loved ones, as they themselves enter older age.

When identifying the reasons why 75% of families supporting disabled people don’t have a long term plan in place for when they can no longer provide support, the lack of local services and accommodation was one of the top reasons. One family told us; “For ten years we have tried to find suitable living accommodation for our son”.

Solving the housing crisis for disabled people isn’t just about the physical accessibility of housing. Disabled people with complex communication needs often need support from people with expertise in communication to support them to receive and convey information. If this isn’t in place individuals may not be able to have choice and control over their day to day lives or express their wishes and feelings.

Many families we spoke with raised this as a key concern: “When she gets assessments, they say ‘well can’t she go here’. Well she could go there but there is no appropriate support when she gets there and no one to communicate with her…”

Supported housing is an option that can offer greater levels of independence and choice for people, but this is often hard to achieve, with families being told it’s not available or not being supported to arrange it.

In supported housing services, the people who live there are tenants in their own rights, with the responsibility and freedom that that entails. The person can then freely choose the support they receive and who delivers this, giving them choice and control over their lives. Supported housing isn’t the answer for everyone, but the EHRC highlights a number of barriers that individuals and their families face when trying to arrange it.

What are the solutions to the housing crisis for disabled people?

An older woman makes a cup of tea in an accessible kitchen

So, what are the solutions? As with anything, this isn’t something that can be solved in isolation. Housing is just one part of the jigsaw but we all need to have a place to call home where we can feel safe, supported and confident. To do this, there are a few key things that need to happen:

  • Local Authorities need to know the current and future housing needs of their populations so they can plan housing and support options. One third of councils we asked do not know how many disabled people in their locality live with and are supported by their families. This is why we’re calling for all local authorities to ensure that disabled people aged 25 and over have a long-term plan in place. Sign our petition to help families plan.
  • Disabled people and their families need better information about the housing and support options available to them and support to plan for the future. 77% of family carers have found the process of making decisions about future care and support difficult as the system is difficult to understand and navigate. At Sense, we have produced a toolkit called Decisions to make, steps to take. It’s aimed at disabled people and their families, to guide them through the process of making choices about the future. You can download the toolkit from the When I’m Gone campaign page on our website.
  • Central government need to adequately fund local authorities, not just to meet immediate care needs but to enable the delivery of new and innovative models of care. 51% of family carers have worries that future funding cuts will limit future options even further than at present. It’s crucial that the upcoming Social Care Green Paper addresses and recognises the needs of disabled people, enabling them to live the lives they want to.

Author: Sarah White

Sarah White is the Head of Public Policy and Campaigns at Sense.

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