Holly Holder, Deputy Director for Homes at Centre for Ageing Better, image

A new Lords select committee report highlights how a shortage of adaptable, accessible and appropriate housing is failing millions of people in this country.

Holly Holder, Deputy Director for Homes at the Centre for Ageing Better, says the UK Government can help deliver significant change on these rights in 2023.

Adequate housing is a human right that for people with disabilities has never been within reach.

Not my words but those of the House of Lords’ Adult Social Care Select Committee, which this month published a blistering account of successive governments’ failures with respect to disabled people and those with care needs. Page after page of simple truths. Not being able to get out of bed or wash yourself or leave the house because of the steps outside of your door can result in people “…being trapped at home, the indignity of not being able to live independently, poorer mental health, a reduction in the ability to work and feelings of social isolation and anxiety.”

As a social care user who gave evidence to the committee said: “There is a notion that, once you become disabled, you are automatically dependent and you need somebody else; you are just looked after and you are wasting your life until you die.”

Only nine percent of our housing is suitable for a disabled person to visit, let alone live in.

Estimates from the Building Research Environment suggest that there are over six million households with accessibility needs. This disproportionately impacts people above State Pension Age who are twice as likely to have a disability than working age adults. And what is a huge amount of unmet need now is only going to get bigger in the future with the over-65 population set to grow from 11 million to 13 million over the next decade.

There is, of course, an alternative: build homes that allow people to get on with their everyday lives. Build homes that make things easier, not harder, for people with wheelchairs, for people who can’t get upstairs, for everyone. With an ageing population and therefore, the likelihood of an increasing number of people with mobility issues, it is imperative that we futureproof our homes.

A significant leap towards increasing the number of suitable homes is within this government’s grasp. Just over two years ago, the Centre for Ageing Better started a campaign with a number of other organisations under the name of the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition to call on the government to increase the minimum accessibility standards of new build homes.

At the time, the government was consulting on the feasibility of a number of different options and, 18 months later, confirmed that they would proceed with our recommendation that most new build homes would be built to age-friendly home standards category 2 or M4(2) level standards).

This ensures no steps between the pavement and the main entrance, more space to move around in all areas of the home, and with features that are easily adaptable to improve accessibility and functionality in the future as needed. Building to this improved standard would mean for example: the walls are strong enough to install grab rails, there’s a hidden floor gulley to allow a walk-in shower to be easily installed, the staircase is wide enough to allow a stairlift. Simple things built into the structure and space of the home that allow people to remain independent for longer.

This is the sort of news that organisations like ours live for. A national level change that would increase the health and wellbeing of disabled people now and in generations to come.

However, more than 200,000 homes have been built since the original consultation. We are now waiting for another consultation to understand how to implement these new standards. That’s potentially 200,000 missed opportunities to provide homes for people who are disabled or indeed anyone who would benefit from a home that is comfortable, safe and helps to retain an individual’s independence as they age.

There has definitely been progress on this pressing issue, but we are still a way off all developers across the country building homes that are suitable for everyone.

Adequate housing – which for some means accessible housing – is a human right. And it is a right that is currently being denied to many.  This failing can be corrected and hopefully soon. For too many people in this country, their home does not bring them comfort but adds to the daily challenge of life. We urge the government to complete the good work it started quickly before too many other missed opportunities are built.

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