Inclusion Scotland welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment in their long-term housing strategy Housing to 2040 to introduce new building standards that will underpin a new Scottish Accessible Homes Standard that will ‘future-proof new homes for lifelong accessibility’.
This is something we have been calling for, for some time, as part of our programme of policy work on housing issues for disabled people.
Introduced from 2025/26 and alongside work to improve the adaptations system and better integrate the work of health and social care and housing services, this could make a critical contribution to supporting disabled people to live independently.
As Susie Fitton, our Policy Development Officer explains, this could be an important step forward for disabled people in Scotland who need accessible and adapted homes:
‘At present, there is a chronic shortage of accessible and adapted housing in Scotland and installing home adaptations can involve unacceptable bureaucracy and delay.
Without an accessible house that meets their needs many older and disabled people across Scotland get ‘stuck’ – in hospital, in residential care, in the childhood home living with aging parents, or on a waiting list for the right house that is never built.
The right home is our base, it’s where we meet our friends, raise our children, keep our possessions safe, invest our income. In the context of Covid-19 and continuing restrictions, the home has become a locus for many people’s work lives, caring responsibilities, family lives and social lives underlying the critical importance of accessible homes that meet the needs of all of us, particularly older and disabled people.
We can no longer afford to ignore accessible housing need in Scotland. It needs to be on everyone’s agenda.
Inclusion Scotland has long called for a new design and space standard for all new homes. The design standard for grant-funded new build affordable housing is now 20 years old and is out of date with inclusive design principles. We welcome the commitment in Housing 2040 to review Housing for Varying Needs and look forward to seeing if a Scottish Accessible Housing Standard can actually improve the accessibility of all new homes in Scotland’
Accessible housing – rights and reality
As disabled people we have a right to accessible and adequate housing under the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Human Rights Act yet we at Inclusion Scotland are well aware that significant numbers of disabled people are currently living in homes across Scotland where they cannot wash themselves, use the toilet, cook and prepare meals in a kitchen, or get in and out of the house without considerable support.
The 2019 Scottish House Condition Survey showed that:
- 80,000 households in Scotland that include a disabled person need an adaptation but do not have one
- 68,000 households in Scotland include a disabled person who has great difficulty getting up and down the stairs
- 53,000 households in Scotland include a disabled person who struggle to access or use the bath/shower
- 21,000 households in Scotland include a disabled person who can’t leave their house because of stairs to the house
Over 120 disabled people came to our Annual Disabled people’s Summit in 2016, which was dedicated to discussing housing for disabled people, they told us in no uncertain terms that they face numerous barriers to finding the right home which included:
- Experiencing injury or ill-health directly as a result of being inaccessibly housed
- Waiting years for a suitable house or adaptation
- Being stuck in hospital as a delayed discharge, in residential care against their will or being inappropriately discharged into an inaccessible home
- Finding it impossible to find an accessible home to buy
- Facing problems getting an adaptation
- Having problems adapting a private let
Their experiences and views about what needed to change can be seen in the summit report Our Place: Our Space.
The year-long statutory inquiry in 2018 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into accessible and adapted housing for disabled people in Scotland found that:
- disabled people are demoralised and frustrated by the housing system due to a severe shortage of accessible and adapted houses that they can rent or buy.
- Installing home adaptations involves unacceptable bureaucracy and delay
- disabled people are not getting the support that they need to live independently.
This inquiry highlighted what disabled people have been telling us and other Disabled People’s Organisations for over 20 years – that finding a house in Scotland that meets their needs can be fraught with difficulty.
In short: a failure to build, adapt and allocate enough accessible homes across Scotland puts needless strain on disabled people, their carers, and generates avoidable cost for health and social care services. It prevents disabled people’s full contribution to society and their participation in the economic and social life of their communities.
Disabled people living in inaccessible houses are also four times less likely to be in employment – this has implications for a) tax revenue, and b) social security budgets. It is also likely that informal carers’ availability to work will also be lessened, amplifying these costs.
In each of these areas there is some good policy, practise and strategy in Scotland, however, despite national and local work to improve the position – the experience of disabled people who need accessible and adapted housing is that good housing experiences often happen by chance, and often only after years of a lack of independence or constraints in daily and family life that can amount to a denial of their human rights.
Wheelchair accessible housing, an acute need
Evidence about the scale of the current situation in relation to wheelchair accessible housing is provided by the headline findings of a report published in 2018 by Horizon Housing Association and North Star Consulting and Research and endorsed by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland.
Still minding the step? A new estimation of housing need among wheelchair users in Scotland shows that 17,226 wheelchair users are living in unsuitable homes across Scotland and this unmet need is set to increase by 80% by 2024, based on current health trends which project a sharp rise in the number of wheelchair users.
The report suggests that in 3 years we will see over 31,000 households that include a wheelchair user living in unsuitable homes in Scotland.
Our work has led to tangible progress for disabled people
With the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living and some of our partners on the Scottish Government’s Accessible Housing working group Inclusion Scotland had called for a national 10% target for the provision of wheelchair accessible homes in developments over 20 units across tenure in Scotland.
Our meetings and correspondence with the Housing Minister uncovered a reluctance to progress a national target in this regard, as it was felt that the responsibility for setting housing targets for wheelchair accessible homes should sit with local authorities as the statutory authority for housing of all tenures. The Minister also considered a national 10% target ‘arbitrary’ and likely to limit development and ambition in some areas where need is likely to be significantly higher than 10%.
Instead, action 62 of the Disability Delivery Plan A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People committed the Scottish Government to working with local authorities, disabled people, and other stakeholders to ensure that each local authority set a realistic target within its Local Housing Strategy for the delivery of wheelchair accessible housing across all tenures and reports annually on progress.
The 2018 Programme for Government committed the Scottish Government to issuing guidance to support local authorities in setting targets to achieve an increase in supply of wheelchair accessible homes.
Inclusion Scotland inputted into the development of this guidance and look forward to seeing it have an actual impact on the levels of supply of wheelchair accessible homes across all tenures in Scotland.
Action in this area is urgently needed. There are simply not enough wheelchair accessible houses being built. Between 2008 and 2016, 132,994 new homes were built in Scotland, yet only 1,427 were built to wheelchair accessible standards.
At current rates of build, it will take us 95 years to meet the current unmet needs of wheelchair users and 174 years to meet their projected needs.
Inclusion Scotland awaits progress with local target setting with interest. We are particularly keen to see local authorities ensuring an adequate supply of wheelchair accessible homes for private sale. Our concern is that a landscape of different locally set targets may encourage private developers to focus development of homes for private sale in areas with the lowest targets given that the additional space requirements required by wheelchair accessible housing impact on their profit margins.
More fundamentally, for any target setting, national or local, to be effective in increasing the provision of wheelchair accessible housing it is imperative that design standards for all new housing provide for design and space standards that offer full wheelchair access. The current design standards for new housing are inadequate in this regard.
The design standard for grant-funded new build affordable housing, Housing for Varying Needs, is now 20 years old. It is therefore out of date in relation to developments in inclusive design, design for dementia and autism, as well as for disabled people using larger wheelchairs and those with bariatric needs.
Housing for Varying Needs assumes wheelchair users and those who use mobility aids need ‘specialist housing’ with integral support rather than mainstream housing. Again, this is out of date with the housing requirements and aspiration of the majority of wheelchair users in Scotland.
We ran a Pop up think tank in 2018 called Making room: identifying, planning and delivering accessible homes for disabled people in Scotland. The report of the event had a number of recommendations including a call on Scottish Government to underpin their approach to housing beyond 2040 with due consideration of the potential to develop a single cross tenure design and space standard that would improve accessibility in all new homes. Read the report Making Room.
An accessible future?
Inclusion Scotland therefore warmly welcomes the commitments in Housing 2040 to focus on accessible and adapted housing and to ensure a higher standard of accessibility for all new homes in Scotland.
By creating new building standards that will underpin a new Accessible Housing Standard we hope the Scottish Government will seize every opportunity to improve design and space standards for all new homes that will mainstream wheelchair accessibility, adaptability and flexibility and that we can re-shape our new build housing and existing to meet the demands of an aging population.
We will look with interest to see if the budget for adaptations will increase, as this much needed, alongside any review of the current system and to ensuring that disabled people are involved in and listened to in further work to improve the provision of accessible and adapted housing in Scotland.