It's Habinteg's #ForAccessibleHomes week of action. From 9-13 September we'll be featuring expert guest blogs all week on the Accessible Housing Crisis and the steps we need to take to build more, quality accessible homes for our ageing and disabled population. Our inaugural guest blog comes from Terrie Alafat, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing.
There is increasing awareness amongst the public that we have a housing crisis; a recent survey for CIH by Ipsos MORI found that 73 per cent of the British public think we have a housing crisis; 55 per cent think that it is not being discussed enough and, encouragingly, 52 per cent would support more homes being built in their locality, which is a big jump up from 40 per cent five years ago. For government, housing remains a domestic priority, with an ambition to develop 300,000 new homes a year.
However, it isn’t only about the numbers; we need to build the right homes in the right places that people can afford. That means delivering housing that is fit for current and future communities, including the increasing numbers of older people and working aged disabled adults and children. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from addressing what EHRC has termed our ‘hidden housing crisis’.
Making sure every new home we build is more accessible and easier to adapt makes sense, as only 7 percent of our existing homes have even the most basic accessible features that makes them ‘visitable’ (rather than habitable). Yet in the UK we have 13.9 million disabled people and an estimated 1.2 million people who use wheelchairs. For working aged disabled people, living in an inaccessible home makes them four times less likely to be employed. We are also an ageing population, with 88 percent of the projected household growth by 2041 being people aged 65 and older. Currently 3.8 million people of 65 and above live alone, and the number of older householders doing so will rise. Whilst age does not necessarily equal ill health or life limiting illness, it does make it more likely, and so increases the need for our homes to be adaptable to support us to live safely, with dignity and continue to cope with activities of daily living, without increased dependence on formal care or health services.
That makes the recent findings by Habinteg about the level of planning for accessible housing across the country a real worry. Its Insight report reveals that, outside London, only 23 per cent of new homes are planned to any accessible standard and only 1 per cent suitable for someone using a wheelchair. There are significant regional disparities too, from one accessible home for every 24 people in London compared to one for every 270 people in the West Midlands.
"It is clear that more action is still necessary, and the sector needs to make its voice heard and keep on calling for the changes that we need to build more accessible homes. That is why CIH supports the campaign for accessible housing. "
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Some opportunities for progress can be seen. The previous prime minster, Theresa May, announced a new package of measures to support disabled people, although we still need to see the detail of this. The interim report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission highlighted the importance of buildings that accommodate what local communities need, and the place for accessibility and adaptability in design. But critically, the long-awaited guidance on planning for older and disabled people did not require higher accessibility standards as the default for new homes, something recommended by the EHRC, in a recent report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ageing and Older People, and that has growing sector wide support.
It is clear that more action is still necessary, and the sector needs to make its voice heard and keep on calling for the changes that we need to build more accessible homes. That is why CIH supports the campaign for accessible housing. This ‘hidden’ housing crisis is an economic, social and human catastrophe, but it can be solved.