Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by John Grooms (AH 27)

  `My third point concerns successful housing—the bedrock of independent living. How can you have any control and choice in your life unless you can get around and in and out of your own home, let alone others? . . . Urgent action needs to be taken as the housing industry has ignored the needs of disabled people for far too long.'

Baroness Wilkins

Queen's Speech Debate, 25 May 2005


  Disabled people are facing a housing crisis. Within this submission John Grooms identifies elements of this crisis from the difficulties which disabled people have in accessing financial capital to enable them to buy a house, to the drafting of local authority housing strategies and the increasing shortage of social housing. The Government's emphasis on pursuing policies to promote homeownership will further reduce the opportunities which disabled people have for living independently in a house which is accessible and adapted to their needs.

  John Grooms calls for the countywide adoption of the "London Plan" approach where all new housing is built to Lifetime Home Standards with 10% to the higher wheelchair standard. It is only by adopting this approach that the marginalisation of disabled people from housing will be addressed.


  John Grooms Housing Association (JGHA) is one of England's leading specialist providers of wheelchair standard housing with more than 1,200 properties in management. JGHA works closely with its sister charity, John Grooms Charity (JGC). JGC is a leading provider of care homes for disabled people, accessible holidays and other services. Our mission is to enable each disabled person with whom we work to achieve a level of independence equal to his or her potential. Collectively we refer to ourselves as John Grooms


  1.  "Home" for many disabled people[61] is not the liberating and enabling experience that most non-disabled people take for granted. A disabled person living with a chronic illness or impairment (physical, emotional or cognitive) can encounter restrictions in their home environment that condition their lifestyle or inhibit their social inter-actions with other people.

  As Scope describe: ". . . the style and standard of an individual's housing reflect social and economic status and have a direct bearing on health, well-being and social opportunities" (2001: p2)

  2.  It is an issue which the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit (PMSU) acknowledged in its landmark report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, published earlier this year and which set out a 20 year strategy—or `ambitious vision' (p3)—to improve the life chances of disabled people. The report describes how disabled people are failed by the social housing sector despite their disproportionate reliance on it. However, due to disabled people's poorer socio-economic status they are, on average, unable to access the private housing market.

  3.  Within this submission; John Grooms will demonstrate that the Government's policy focus on promoting home ownership in its various guises, while politically popular with the majority of people, will only serve to further exclude disabled people from being able to live in an adapted and fully accessible house. To address this housing crisis we recommend that the "London Plan" approach is adopted in the provision of all new housing. The London Plan states that all new housing— market and social—is built to Lifetime Home Standards[62] (LHS) with 10% of the stock to the higher wheelchair standard or easily adaptable to it.

What is the scale of the housing problem facing disabled people?

  4.  There are no definitive statistics to draw on which demonstrate the housing crisis facing disabled people. The ones which do exist are often widely drawn, from different sources, over different timescales and with varying sample sizes. While this lack of comprehensive data hinders the development of progressive evidence based housing policy, it is clear that a severe problem exists.

  5.  The latest survey of English Housing by the ODPM (ODPM 2005) estimated that the number of people in England with a medical condition or disability requiring specially adapted accommodation was 1.4 million. Almost a quarter (23%) of this total (350,000 people) were people living in housing that was unsuitable for their needs.

  6.  These findings reflect a national survey carried out by Scope, reported by Lamb and Lazell (1994 cited by Barnes et al 1999: p120). This found that only 29% of disabled people living in private households thought that all the adaptations they required had been carried out to their dwelling place.

  7.  Of a similar nature were the findings of a survey for the Greater London Authority in 2002 (GLA 2002) which identified the housing problems facing disabled people, particularly wheelchair users. The GLA survey found that:

    —  6% of households in London included someone with a physical disability;

    —  2% of households (56,000) included someone who used a wheelchair;

    —  13,000 people lived in inaccessible housing and needed a wheelchair standard house;

    —  20% of wheelchair users lived above the first floor; and

    —  29% of people with a disability wanted to move within five years.

  8.  It is likely that similar figures will be found across the country even allowing for different socio-economic circumstances. Research published by John Grooms, and based on research in the early 1990's by the Housing Corporation, indicates that countrywide there is a shortage of 300,000 fully wheelchair accessible properties to meet current and projected housing need. (Ackroyd 2003).

  9.  The Social Exclusion Unit recently quoted the Housing Corporation's estimate of the shortage as 330,000 (SEU, 2005: p149). What ever the true figure, demand is bound to increase in the future due to the twin demographic pressures of growing numbers of disabled people and a growing elderly population—both factors that are indicative of increased wheelchair use.

  10.  It is John Groom's experience that local authority housing strategies across the country will either ignore the need for wheelchair accessible housing, only do so in woolly terms, give a lower than realistic estimate of local demand given national figures or will rely solely on Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) to alter unsuitable properties.

  11.  We also find that a number of other "minority" groups seem to be given a higher priority when it comes to the production of appropriate housing. "Minority" groups include homeless people, Gypsies and travelling people, BME groups and housing for older people. While these groups must not be ignored, John Grooms feels that their housing needs should not be met at the expense of disabled people.

  12.  John Grooms recommends that all local authorities should be required to demonstrate an inclusive approach by cross council work between planning, housing and social services departments when developing their housing strategy. They should also be required to include other stakeholders such as occupational therapy departments, hospital discharge administrators, access groups and local disability charities.

  13.  Unless new housing developments fully integrate the needs of disabled people from the outset of the planning and design process for new housing, an inclusive environment will not be created. Such an element must be at the heart of any truly sustainable community. The new planning regulation requiring an access statement to be submitted with each planning application, as part of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, is a welcome move to address this issue. However its application needs to monitored to ensure that truly accessible communities are created.


  14.   [63]As Balchin (1995) describes, in a modern and complex society such as the UK, the market would normally supply people with a choice of goods and services. In housing, given perfect market conditions, this would deliver a choice between renting and buying. However due to market imperfections and the decline of the private landlord; this choice has been removed. Consequently, as Balchin observes: "On the scale required only the provision of local authority housing can ensure that most households who cannot or do not prefer to buy are supplied with housing at a rent within their means." (1995: p5)

  15.  While it is not true to say that all disabled people are unable to purchase their own property, they are more likely than non-disabled people to be social renters. With the growth in the number of private market houses in the UK, due to population and household growth, so the reliance of disabled people on the social sector has grown.

  16.  This reliance was commented on by Stewart et al (1999) in their analysis of housing construction and housing finance data. In 1981 (looking at tenant heads of household) Stewart et al found that 4% of council tenants and 3% of housing association tenants were categorised as "permanently sick or disabled". In 1995 these percentages had risen to 9% and 8% respectively. The shift is significant because: ". . . the social rented sector has become the `special needs' provider". (1999: p13).

  17.  In other tenure types the proportion of permanently sick or disabled heads of household has remained the same or lower. Barnes et al found that: "British disabled people and their families are twice as likely to live in property owned by local authorities as their non-disabled peers." (1999: p120). It is a situation which contributes to the social marginalisation of disabled people.

  18.  It is doubly worrying due to the steady decline in completed houses in the UK (registered social landlord and local authority) from a high point in 1995-96 (41,516 houses) to the latest figures from 2003-04 of 18,577 (ODPM 2005a). Private house building has shown a 9.5% increase to 171,490 in the same period—its highest level for 15 years. Unless there is concerted Government action to build more social rented houses, increasing numbers of disabled people will face increased difficulties finding a house which fully meets their needs and gives them the freedom to live their lives.

Why can't a disabled person buy a house?

  19.  Government policy in the 80s and 90s focussed on turning the UK into a nation of home owners. Home ownership was made as financially attractive as possible with the emphasis that it was the ideal and normal housing option. Such was the change that the aspiration of a "property owning democracy" is one which is now accepted across the political divide.

  20.  As a consequence in the 1980s and 1990s home ownership increased by 17%. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) confirmed the trend when research found that 71% of households in England are owner occupiers, 18% are social renters and 11% private renters. (ODPM 2005) With the growth in home ownership so the " . . . allocation of owner occupation is driven by the ability to pay, not by measures of need" (p371). Yet for disabled people securing access to sufficient capital in order to purchase a house is increasingly difficult due to the operation of the market.

  21.  As the PMSU report observed, the income of disabled people is on average half of that earned by non-disabled people. The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) also note that only 50% of disabled people of working age are in employment compared to 81% of non-disabled people (DRC 2005: p 19). These factors combine to lessen the credit worthiness of disabled people in the eyes of financial institutions and so diminish their opportunity of securing a mortgage.

  22.  The disadvantage is then compounded by the reliance of mortgage lenders on the insurance industry rather than income support or other state financial aid to guarantee mortgage repayments (a situation which has explicit Government support). As Easterlow et al note ". . . life insurance which can be an essential component of mortgage borrowing and which often contains prohibitive exclusion clauses for people with health problems as well as for people with insecure labour market positions" (p374).

  23.  Under these circumstances, a disabled person seeking access to finance will be forced to rely on "unconventional lenders" with high charges and interest rates. This increases the cost of borrowing for property, reducing available finance and forcing households in this position down market in their search for a house.

  24.  As a consequence disabled people, due to their low incomes and health problems, are forced into marginal properties in poor condition that are the least healthy to live in. As the DRC observe ". . . disabled people are more likely to live in poverty and are over represented in deprived areas" (2005: p 4 - 5)


  25.  Private builders do not think of disabled people as a sufficiently large market to build houses speculatively for. As the DRC (DRC 2004) explain, citing Professor Rob Imrie, research reveals that private house builders have very little knowledge of disabled people and regard them as a minority concern. Drake (1999) cites a statement from the House Builders Federation (HBF) that dismisses the housing problems encountered by disabled people as "not severe" (p82). In the view of the HBF; if a disabled person had an access problem it ". . . would be reasonable to expect that he or she would be assisted over the threshold by the host" (Drake: p82)

  26.  Accessible private rented housing is almost non-existent (Scope 2001). This was also observed by Harrison and Davis (2001) who found that as the social sector was where most barrier free houses were located, disabled people where consequently obliged to look there for suitable housing.


  27.  Given the importance of the social sector in providing housing for disabled people, it is disappointing to note that the main funder of social housing in the UK, the Housing Corporation, has specified in its Corporate Plan 2005-08 that only 23% (2005: p44) of new funded houses in 2004-05 will be built to meet Lifetime Home Standards. (LHS).

  28.  The advantage of the LHS is that it recognises the need for flexibility, adaptability and accessibility. This allows occupiers to remain as the house can be adapted to meet their changing housing needs over their lifetime. The standard is also high enough to meet the needs of most disabled people without alteration. Therefore more houses built to LHS would enable more choice for disabled people. This attribute is a key plank of the new Disability Equality Duty which the Housing Corporation, registered social landlords and local authorities have to comply with from December 2006.

  29.  The paucity of acknowledgement of the housing needs of disabled people is unsurprising given its absence in the ODPM's five year housing plan, "Sustainable Communities: Homes for All". Except for a small re-announcement of the existing Disabled Facilities Grants budget the housing needs of disabled people were ignored.

  30.  The ODPM strategy was launched five days after Angela Eagle MP (then Minister for Disabled People) launched "Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People"—the Government's 20 year strategy for disabled people as noted earlier. Within the report it notes that, "Improving the suitability of new-build and renovated homes for disabled people would also help reduce future public expenditure on housing adaptations, equipment and care services." (PMSU, 2005: 62). Does one side of Whitehall speak to the other side?

  31.  John Grooms recommends the adoption of the Lifetime Home Standard into Part M of the Building Regulations so as to represent a minimum standard for all new housing. The Lifetime Home Standard is already the minimum standard for all social housing in Wales and Northern Ireland, it should be applied in England.


  32.  While the LHS is a good basic minimum it is still only "visitable" by a wheelchair user, not "liveable". It only allows wheelchair access to the ground (or entry) floor, a living area and toilet. John Grooms defines a house as "liveable" for a wheelchair user, if he/she can use it as reasonably and flexibly as a non-disabled person. Within a wheelchair standard house design features and white goods are designed and installed with the wheelchair user in mind. This will maximise the lifestyle choices of the wheelchair user who will live in the house.

  33.  Wheelchair standard homes will generally require a larger footprint than general needs housing—a factor which will obviously need to be considered when planning future housing development. While including wheelchair housing within a scheme will reduce the number of houses that will be built, and will cost more per housing unit, [64]this needs to be set against the policy initiative of the Disability Discrimination Act that seeks to ensure that disabled people have the same range of choices, opportunity and control as non-disabled people.

  34.  To ensure that housing meets this policy priority John Grooms recommends the adoption of the "London Plan" approach for all regional housing strategies. The London Plan states that 100% of all housing (both private market and social rented sector) are built to Lifetime Home Standards with 10% of this new housing stock to the higher wheelchair standard or designed to be easily adapted.


  35.  Due to their reliance on the social sector, disabled people face increased problems seeking an accessible house that meets their housing needs. This trend will continue unless there is concerted Government action to tackle the recommendations detailed in this submission. Until this is done disabled people will be increasingly forced into unsuitable houses and marginalised from society.

61   See Appendix One for an explanation on why we cite disabled people as one group. Back

62   Lifetime Standard Homes incorporate 16 design features which help ensure that the house is flexible, adaptable and accessible. For more information visit Back

63   For paragraphs 14-23 we draw on Easterlow, Smith and Mallinson (2000) except where noted. Back

64   John Grooms estimates a wheelchair standard house costs an average of 30% more to produce when compared to a general needs house. Back

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