Comment from Habinteg Chief Executive, Paul Gamble as featured on 24Housing website on 21 January.
David Cameron’s opening announcement of 2016 set out how his government will become house builders, with plans to directly deliver new homes.
Building the number of homes promised at an affordable price is a huge long-term challenge, which direct government efforts could help to unlock. Such direct involvement could also increase the supply of accessible housing to alleviate a national shortage. The prime minister should demand that all homes built with public investment are inclusive for all.
This should be straight-forward. The government, as recently as last October, enshrined new accessible housing standards into national building regulations for the first time. In doing so they recognise the role that the accessibility of new homes plays in their long term usability and value for money. They are good standards - the technical Part M Category 2 is broadly equivalent to our Lifetime Homes Standard, a set of design criteria that make new homes accessible and easy to adapt from the start. These standards are optional but it’s an option the government should seize.
The renewed momentum in housing policy could produce exemplar new homes – a leading example of what can be achieved by government, developers, local authorities and communities working together. Mainstream homes that will meet the changing demands of this and future generations. In London, the Lifetime Homes Standard has been the default standard since 2004, and it has been adopted in the devolved administrations for public housing for many years too. What is fundamental is that with such significant investment of public assets, homes that include everyone should be mandatory.
If government broadly recognise accessible homes as a good thing then they should be leading the way. Practically and in principle, it is the right thing to do. Put bluntly, if directly commissioned homes aren’t fit to meet the needs of older and disabled people, or families with kids in a buggy (or even the couple trying to get a sofa in through the door), we will all be entitled to demand an explanation.
There is a growing consensus on the urgent need to ready ourselves for the health, housing and social care needs of our ageing population. There are already an estimated 11.6 million disabled people in the UK and this number is set to increase dramatically. With only 5% of homes in England fully accessible currently, that’s the context of the UK’s housing challenge.
We’ve welcomed the chancellor’s announcement of 8,000 new specialist homes for disabled and older people in the spending review. But in reality, 8,000 new specialist homes will not meet the demand nationally now and will not scratch the surface of the need presented by an ageing population.
Accessibly designed homes can support independence, help prevent falls, reduce length of hospital stays and delay costly and unwanted moves to residential care. A night in hospital costs the NHS around £273 whilst a week’s residential care averages £550. The government’s own assessment estimates that a three bedroom home built to Category 2/Lifetime Homes costs just £521 more to build than its less accessible equivalent, less than one week’s bill for residential care. It’s an investment in the future.
Yet the flagship ‘starter homes’ policy seems focused on a very short event horizon, and makes no mention of any accessibility standard. The government’s own impact assessment states that – “households with at least one member who is disabled or long term sick will be adversely affected”. Frankly that is not good enough.
As the prime minister himself said when launching the policy: “This government was elected to deliver security and opportunity - whatever stage of life you’re at”. But without an up-front commitment to accessibility, quality and inclusion of the homes and surrounding infrastructure built directly, the PM’s big idea risks excluding many disabled and older people, wasting public money and missing the opportunity to implement a long-term, inclusive, strategic housing policy that delivers for all.