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Disabled people to face more home truths

This month has seen presentation to parliament of the new Housing and Planning bill. Whilst the government argues this will tackle the housing shortage by, for example, making it easier to convert offices into dwellings, critics point to the potential loss of social housing as the emphasis moves towards provision of “affordable” housing, largely provided through the private sector.

“Right to buy” is to be extended to housing association tenants and only last week the prime minster announced plans to demolish up to 100 so-called “sink estates.”

How you react to such pronouncements may depend upon your own ideological position but clearly the contribution social housing makes to the overall market will be diminished. Whilst its extension of right to buy will be welcomed by those wish to make the jump from tenant to homeowner, the fear is that stock lost will not be replaced by genuinely affordable housing.

This will have an impact as historically social housing rents were determined through examination of both local wage levels and property prices and might be calculated at up to 50 percent below private rental market rates. As affordable housing the discounts may be as little as 20 percent, a figure which must be set against private rental costs which are rising significantly ahead of inflation. In England the median average private rent was £600 rising to an eye-watering £1,350 in London.

House price inflation is, of course, making life ever more difficult for first-time buyers with that word affordable no less controversial. Whilst pressure is placed upon housebuilders to include a percentage of affordable housing within developments, in some parts of the country such “starter homes” might cost as much as £450,000.

So where does this leave the 12 m disabled people in the UK?  Data published in 2013 by the Papworth Trust reveals that people with disabilities are both twice as likely to be social housing tenants and live in poverty so the loss of stock and the move from a social to affordable housing definition is set to have significantly greater impact.

As many if not all you will know, daily life is simply more expensive to lead for disabled people as research by the Extra Costs Commission brutally illustrates. The monthly additional cost of being disabled runs at a whopping £550, whilst additional benefits total just £360.

On top of this, the squeeze on local authority budgets has, says Leonard Cheshire Disability, resulted in fewer home adaptations being completed within the necessary, legally defined timeframe, despite increasing demand. In its report, No Place Like Home, the charity also found that just five percent of UK homes are wheelchair accessible and 300,000 people with disabilities are on housing waiting lists. Alarmingly it also discovered that half of all disabled children and one in six adults are living in unsuitable accommodation.

Given a further round of local authority cuts are set to kick in for the coming financial year it seems then that the burden of home adaptations –  the fitting of access ramps, hoists, low height fittings and so on – may increasingly fall upon disabled people themselves despite them being significantly more likely to be on lower incomes. Such adaptations don’t come cheap with, say, a wall mounted bath hoist around £2,000 including VAT relief without taking into account charges for fitting, and a curved stairlift £3,000+.

These too need protecting from the unthinkable such as a house fire or flood and so the cost of home insurance must also be factored in. As many standard policies may not protect fitted or portable mobility aids then specialist cover which does – such as our specially designed adapted home insurance – should be factored in so that disabled people do not find themselves out of pocket. Houses need to be more than bricks and mortar, to be homes, and loss of those invaluable aids would also threaten that status by undermining valued independence.

It seems that housing will continue to remain high on the news and political agendas as the government drives through its reforms, but whether the impact upon disabled people grabs the headlines is debatable. After all whilst these changes and their implications for people, disabled or not, have been debated in parliament and specialist media, coverage has been noticeable only by its absence in much of the mainstream press. An issue which matters to so many remains out of sight and mind.

  • For more information on the Housing & Planning Bill and to follow its progress through parliament, click here.

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