wheelchair user in kitchen image

Two leading charities, the Centre for Ageing Better and Habinteg, are calling on the UK Government to focus on the quality of housing in England, as new figures show that elderly and disabled people face inequalities when it comes to adequately heated and accessible homes.

The call comes following new data from the English Housing Survey for 2018-2019, an annual survey commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). It collects information about people’s housing circumstances and the condition and energy efficiency of housing in England.

According to the latest survey, poor-quality housing is still common in England, with 4.3 million households (17 percent) living in a home that doesn’t meet basic standards of decency. Households headed by someone 65 and over are more likely to be living in non-decent homes (19 percent) than younger age groups, the survey adds.

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The figures also show slow progress on improving the accessibility of housing. Over the past decade, the number of households with at least one adaptation for a person with a disability has increased by just one percent, from nine percent to 10 percent.

Kerry Thompson, a wheelchair user and Habinteg tenant from Milton Keynes, said: “Living in an accessible home myself, I know first-hand how vital they are for a disabled person like me.

“Accessible and adapted homes help alleviate pressures on health and social care services and budgets. They enable greater independence at home and speed up hospital discharges. This is crucial at a time when our NHS and Social Care provision is already under enormous strain. I hope this new data urges the government to launch a new consultation into accessible housing standards.”

In addition, the statistics indicate that less than one in 10 homes in England have all four accessibility features that make them visitable by wheelchair users. The data also showed that only 16 percent of wheelchair users live in an accessible home, with just 57 percent of wheelchair users are living in adapted homes altogether.

Commenting on the figures, Habinteg CEO Sheron Carter said: “Whilst it’s encouraging to see the proportion of homes with basic accessibility features increasing to 9% from 5% in 2005, it’s clear that the total proportion of homes which are accessible is still woefully inadequate.

“That’s why the government must change the regulation to ensure all new homes being built are accessible for older and disabled people.”

As well as homes being non-decent for over-60s or inaccessible to wheelchair users, the English Housing Survey also highlighted that nearly one in ten over-60s living alone struggle to afford to heat their homes, prompting calls for the UK Government’s ‘Green New Deal’ to focus on improving the quality of housing.

The new figures show that older households had, on average, higher energy costs than younger households, leaving 8.5 percent of households headed by someone aged 60, and 9.9 percent of single person households aged 60 and over, finding it difficult to meet their heating costs.

Additionally, the data outlined Black (22.5 percent) and Asian (21.5 percent) households were twice as likely to find it difficult to meet their heating costs compared to White (10.3 percent) households.

The ‘mini budget’ announcement made by Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak last week detailed a ‘green homes grant’ which would, from September, see homeowners be able to apply for vouchers to cover the costs of improving their properties with measures such as better insulation, up to a limit of £5,000.

For low income households, the amount could stretch to the entire cost, up to a maximum of £10,000. This is part of a £3 billion green recovery scheme designed to lead Britain out of the coronavirus crisis.

Now, the Centre for Ageing Better is calling on the government to take the opportunity to address other hazards in homes while tackling energy efficiency, such as repairs and adaptations.

Holly Holder, Senior Evidence Manage at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “These new figures show that while real progress has been made in recent years, there are still too many older people living in cold or poor-quality homes.

“We know that cold homes can cause or worsen many conditions, from asthma to arthritis. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how crucial it is to tackle the preventable causes of health conditions, and improving the quality of our homes must be part of that project.

“While the ‘green home grant’ is a good start, the government must go further and enable adaptations and repairs in its plans for improving the energy efficiency of homes – as these are just as important to making a home safe and habitable.”

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