The amendment

To introduce a new duty on local authorities to accurately assess the level of need for wheelchair accessible homes, and set appropriate targets in their local development plans.

Click here to add your support to Aspire's amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Click here to download this page as a pdf

The purpose of the amendment

Despite the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) stating that local planning authorities should meet the housing needs of a range of social groups – including disabled people – in their local plans, this clearly isn’t happening on the scale needed. Research undertaken by Aspire in 2014 found that 24,000 wheelchair users in England are in urgent need of wheelchair accessible social or affordable housing alone; without allowing for those looking to rent or buy privately. We therefore urgently need to build more wheelchair accessible homes.  

Government has introduced measures to support the building of ‘Starter Homes’ across the country, but has set no such objective for much needed wheelchair accessible housing. With the emphasis now being placed upon the development of new starter homes, the supply of new wheelchair accessible homes is likely to dwindle further and waiting times can only increase.

The importance of wheelchair accessible housing

Having a home that meets their physical needs is essential to someone with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) and their family. Research soon to be published by Aspire, undertaken by Loughborough University, compares the experiences of SCI people and their families living in adapted and unadapted housing. All quotes contained in this briefing are taken from verbatim accounts from SCI people and family members compiled during the research. We have used pseudonyms here and in the research report in order to maintain participants’ confidentiality.                  

The research reveals how important housing is for people with SCI as they face the prospect of being discharged from hospital, and many face significant fears:

“Would it be our family home again? Could I even get into it? What about the bathroom, the toilet? Where would I sleep? Which rooms could I get into? Would I be able to sit in the garden again? Would I be left alone in one room? Would I be a burden to my family?”

The report, titled 'The health and wellbeing of spinal cord injured adults and the family: Examining lives in adapted and unadapted homes', shows the significant physical and psychological impact both types of accommodation have upon SCI people and their families. The evidence shows that adapted housing enables SCI adults to maintain their independence by providing them with all the adaptations necessary to take care of themselves, to be able to move freely around the home, to pursue leisure and employment opportunities, and to maintain personal dignity. The accessibility of adapted housing also gives SCI people the physical environment that enables them to continue the rehabilitation process:

“It’s allowed me to perfect all the things I learnt in rehab, and because out here things are very different than in rehab, I had to hone what I’d learnt to take care of my body and health. Having an adapted place ensures you can do this, rather than waste all you’ve learnt in rehab, and probably end up back in there with a pressure sore, a bladder infection, or after a bad fall.”

Being able to take care of their own physical health with independence and dignity, and enjoy family life, also contributed to positive psychological wellbeing. For Robert, not having to, “worry about access, showering, going to bed, being stuck in the house”, enabled him to “look for a job, play rugby and get out and about.” 

The research reveals a very different picture of life for those with SCI living in unadapted housing:

“I’ve always been a very independent person. But because of the problems with the house I can’t go anywhere without someone having to help me out and get me into the house again… Having the adaptations would mean I wouldn’t have to camp out downstairs, I wouldn’t have to have a commode or a hospital bed downstairs and be embarrassed about that.”    

Those who lived in adapted homes were able to continue to practice the skills they learned in rehabilitation, but that wasn’t possible for those in unadapted properties. For Vicky, not being able to do things for herself means that, “because of the house, I’ve lost all my muscle mass that I built up in rehab. My health is going downhill, physically and mentally.” Ultimately, the inaccessibility of the home prevents SCI people from pursuing activities with independence and dignity and consequently has a very detrimental impact on their psychological wellbeing. 

“It’s depressing living in here, like this, in a house that doesn’t meet my basic needs. I’m, I’m at rock bottom, and feel so low, so very low. Now basically I just sit here. I can get to the back door but that’s as far as I go… I try not to think about it. And that’s my day. Just sit, alone. Horrible, really horrible. I might have the excitement of changing my colostomy bag, and that is it.”

The finding that was of most concern, however, was that 30% of research participants spoke of having suicidal thoughts due to their living conditions. Dan feels like his unadapted home is, “no better than living in a prison…and I sit here during the day and night seriously thinking, ‘why not just end it’. Boris, though, got through the horror of living in an unadapted home and feels his future is brighter:

“I’ve had the thoughts in my head a few times that I’ve wanted to top myself. The thought has been there before when I lived in a house that wasn’t adapted. My mentality is a lot better now than what it was in the old house. I’m absolutely loving this place. And now because of moving in here I have a future.”

Forcing people to live in homes that are not adapted to meet their needs has a massive, detrimental impact on their physical and psychological health and wellbeing.

How big is this problem?

Aspire has found that, due to the shortage of wheelchair accessible homes, a staggering 86% of people with SCI are unlikely to be discharged into a home that meets their physical needs when they have completed rehabilitation. In fact, 1 in 5 will be transferred into a care home and we uncovered the shocking impact of this for SCI people in our report published in 2012. The majority of the rest will be discharged into housing that has not been adapted to meet their needs.

Research carried out by Aspire in 2014 found that around 24,000 wheelchair users in England are in urgent need of wheelchair accessible social or affordable housing. This does not even take into account people struggling to buy or rent in the private market or those struggling to get on to housing lists. Aspire undertook a Freedom of Information investigation of every local housing authority to establish a picture of the level of need for wheelchair accessible social housing in England. Based on the information received it was calculated that at current allocation rates for wheelchair accessible homes it will take around 6 years for those waiting for one to be rehoused.  And that’s without allowing for any wheelchair users newly coming into the system. 

As well as the potentially devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of SCI people and their families, this hidden housing crisis incurs unnecessary and preventable costs on health care budgets.    

A bed in a Spinal Cord Injury Centre costs the NHS £960 per day; it’s self-evident that when inaccessible housing leads to patients spending additional weeks in hospital waiting adaptions to their own home or for a suitable property to be found, a sizeable but avoidable drain on public finance is occurring. The same is true when people are readmitted for treatment for bladder infections, pressure sores or falls brought about by living in an unadapted home.

What action is needed?

It is clear that the current supply of wheelchair accessible housing isn’t meeting demand. More wheelchair accessible homes must be built. Despite the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requiring local planning authorities to meet the housing needs of disabled people in their local plans, this clearly isn’t happening on the scale needed.

Government has introduced measures to support the building of ‘Starter Homes’ across the country, but has set no such objective for much needed wheelchair accessible housing. With the emphasis being placed upon the planning for new starter homes, the supply of wheelchair accessible homes will dwindle further and waiting times for desperate families can only increase.

The 2015 Housing and Planning Bill offers us a rare opportunity to introduce new legal duties to ensure that local planning authorities give due regard to the need for wheelchair accessible housing in their areas. Aspire wants a new duty on local authorities to accurately assess the level of need for wheelchair accessible homes, and set appropriate targets in their local development plans.

On behalf of the thousands of people in urgent need of a wheelchair accessible home for themselves and their family, Aspire urges you to support our amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Click here to add your support to Aspire's amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill

Click here to download this page as a pdf

For more information please email Aspire's Policy Manager, Andy Shipley on andrew.shipley@aspire.org.uk