Policy design can be a tangle of hidden snares.  Less than two weeks’ worth of dust has gathered on this summer’s Budget, and already some unintended consequences are beginning to emerge.  One of them, unfortunately, affects one of the key services that Aspire provides – housing.

If you follow Aspire’s campaigning work, you will be aware that there is a huge shortage of accessible housing in the UK.  Aspire does what it can to address this problem by providing temporary, accessible accommodation to people with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) who are ready to leave hospital but unable to return to their own homes.  If Aspire did not provide this service, many more people with SCI would be discharged to inaccessible properties or even a nursing home.

In order to provide this accommodation, Aspire works closely with housing associations.  Sometimes, an association will work with Aspire to build bespoke properties.  More often, the association will identify an existing property, usually one that they describe as “hard-to-let”, which Aspire then transforms into accommodation suitable for a wheelchair user.

In the fortnight following the budget, Aspire’s Housing Team has noticed a sudden, significant drop in willingness from housing associations to work with us on establishing new accommodation.

The reason?  Since the Budget, housing associations have had to be much more cautious about the plans they make for the future.   Concerned by the state’s rising housing benefit bill, the Chancellor announced a cap on social rent rises of 1% per year.  This cap means a drop in projected income for associations, and as a consequence, a need to take stock and even pull back from planned projects.  The National Housing Federation, for instance, predicts that cap will come at the cost of 27,000 new affordable homes.  With a nervous eye to their dwindling reserves, housing associations are unwilling to begin new projects which carry even the slightest financial risk.  Hard-to-let properties are far more likely to be sold to boost revenue, rather than made available to charities such as Aspire to create accessible housing. 

Other policies within the budget, such as the expansion of Right-to-Buy, are also placing a strain on revenue. 

This need to protect specialist housing providers was raised in parliament during the Welfare Reform and Work Bill debate on Monday.  Grahame Morris, the MP for Easington, asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether he had

“considered an exemption for the specialist disability housing providers, such as Mencap, from the 1% reduction, so that people with a learning disability have more opportunities to live in the community, especially after Winterbourne and all those terrible scandals?”

The Minister promised he would meet with Mr Morris to discuss the matter further.  Aspire will be contacting Mr Morris to provide him with as much ammunition as possible for his meeting.

Aspire acknowledges that the social rent cap will be a boon for those tenants who can afford the entirety of their rent.  We also appreciate that it is not sustainable for social rents, and subsequently the nation’s housing benefit bill, to perpetually increase at such a steep rate.  However, if not minded to overturn the decision, to counteract the unintended consequence set out above, the Government should consider offering developers incentives to build more accessible homes.  A ring-fenced grant programme, or low-interest loans, could make a real difference.      

If no funding of the sort is offered, then more disabled will struggle to find the homes they need to live independent lives.