Equality Commission calls for end to Scotland's hidden disability housing crisis

Published: 11 May 2018

Scotland’s disabled people are being failed by government policy and local government inaction, which leaves thousands with no decent home to live in, says an Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into disabled people’s housing released today.

By failing to build homes which are accessible or adaptable we are not only failing disabled people today but storing up a huge problem for the future.

Our report, Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis, calls on the Scottish Government to produce a national strategy to ensure there is an adequate supply of houses built to inclusive design standards and for a review of the way that building standards are enforced.

John Wilkes, Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, said:

'During our inquiry we heard many stories of people unable to leave their homes, restricted to eating, sleeping and bathing in one room, and loved ones risking their own health to carry family members upstairs or between rooms. The effect of this cannot be understated. It impacts on every aspect of a disabled person’s life, their ability to participate in family life, to work, to access education and social life, as well as their dignity, health and wellbeing.

'Today there are 61,000 disabled Scots who are waiting for adaptations to their homes. A further 17,000 Scottish wheelchair users are poorly housed.

'But Scotland is currently building 50,000 affordable homes. We could resolve the problem for all of Scotland’s wheelchair users now if these houses were built to accessible standards.'

The inquiry, which was conducted across Great Britain, also found that disabled people living in inaccessible houses were four times less likely to be in work than those who were properly housed.

Simple adaptations such as handrails, low level baths and hoists could make huge differences to people’s ability to live in their own homes, but the current system for installing them isn’t working, with lengthy delays common.

The report found that part of the problem is down to poor planning.

Only a quarter of Scottish councils said they had accurate information about disabled people’s housing needs today, and few are planning for people needs as they age. As a result, only a fifth had set targets for building accessible homes in the future.

Mr Wilkes continued:

'If we don’t act now we are simply storing up trouble for future generations. We estimate that demand for wheelchair accessible homes will rise by 80 percent in the next five years. It’s four times cheaper to build an accessible house than to retro fit adaptations. Building accessible housing is also far cheaper than keeping people in care homes or hospitals as we do just now simply because there is nowhere for them to live.'

Recommendations to stop the crisis include:

  • build at least 10 percent of all new housing to accessible homes standards
  • develop an accessible housing register so that disabled people know when adaptable housing becomes available for rent or purchase
  • ensure that adaptations are installed quickly
  • properly assess the current and future needs of Scotland’s disabled people

The report and associated material has been issued today and is available on the Commission's website

For further information and comment please contact Chris Oswald.

Notes to editors

22% of Scotland’s population (1.1 million people) has some form of disability.

The report found that part of the problem is down to poor planning. Only a quarter of Scottish councils said they had accurate information about disabled people’s housing needs today, and few had thought about people's needs as they age. As a result only a fifth had set targets for building accessible homes in the future.

Examples of the evidence heard by the Commission in Scotland:

  • Carrie, the mother of a disabled child, stated that her house’s layout posed a risk to herself and her child and had resulted in falls on the stairs and in the bath.
  • Quinton, a wheelchair user, was housebound for 12 years while waiting for a suitable property. He described a ‘very difficult fight’ with the local authority to move into accessible social housing and gain independent living. Quinton gained support from his doctors and local MP. After exploring the option of shared-ownership under the guidance of Housing Options Scotland (HOS), Quinton secured a property which was adaptable to his housing needs.
  • Harry, a social housing tenant, and Geana, a tenant in the private rental sector, both stated that deterioration in their mobility made it difficult to use stairs. Both were aware of the future risk of becoming housebound if alternative suitable accommodation was not found quickly.
  • Fiona acquired new accessibility requirements when the removal of a spinal abscess left her with nerve damage, scoliosis and difficulty walking. She remained for 10 months in a rehabilitation hospital and realised that her privately owned flat would not meet her accessibility needs. Fiona made the decision to move to an accessible sheltered social housing development, but had to remain in hospital for a further two months until a suitable property became available.

What the inquiry recommends

The right to independent living recognises that disabled people are experts in determining and promoting better solutions. Governments at national and local level need to be much more effective in engaging disabled people at both the strategic and operational levels to meaningfully reflect their input, in a continual cycle of improvement. The Commission's recommendations for Scotland are detailed in the Scotland's Hidden Crisis report.