I beg to move,
I am pleased to be able to present this Bill today and to speak on the subject of the disabled facilities grant. The Bill has its origins in discussions in the all-party parliamentary group for muscular dystrophy, which looks at the difficulties faced by many people with a progressive muscle-wasting or muscle-weakening condition, of which there are about 60. I heard from Muscular Dystrophy UK that for many people, including adults, children and young people, the cost of adapting the home to meet their needs are increasing year on year, and can easily exceed the current cap on the disabled facilities grant of £30,000 a year in England—a figure set in 2008. In Wales, the figure is £36,000, while in Northern Ireland, it is £25,000. In Scotland, there is a scheme of assistance similar to the disabled facilities grant.
This is not just a question of costs. Having the correct adaptations to homes means that people with disabilities and many older people living in their own home have independence to do the things we all take for granted in and outside their home. The foreword to the 2018 report on accessible homes by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission set out the position very clearly:
“Decent housing is a basic human right that helps people to have independent, fulfilled lives. Everyone should be able to live in an area of their choosing, cook and wash for themselves, avoid falls, make the choice not to live in residential care, go out to see friends and have them over. In essence, they should be able to lead a dignified life as part of a community. This is our vision for all disabled people in Britain who are currently being denied their right to live independently—something that many of us take for granted.”
We know that disabled people are frustrated by the housing system, and with good reason. The numbers speak for themselves. Research from charity Leonard Cheshire shows that 67% of councils report disabled people not having crucial home adaptations completed within the 12-month deadline; 23% of councils report disabled people waiting over two years for completion of works; and demand for home adaptations through disabled facilities grants rose by 27% between 2015 and 2019. Last week, the latest English housing survey, for 2018, was published. It reveals that only 9% of homes in England have the four accessibility features key to their being deemed to be visitable, and even that is an increase from 5% in 2005; and 57% of wheelchair users are living in adapted homes. Those figures underline the importance of accessing the disabled facilities grant, given that so many homes are inaccessible.
Habinteg Housing Association estimates that over 400,000 wheelchair users live in homes that are neither adapted nor accessible. That is simply not good enough. We need an urgent review of the disabled facilities grant in order to make homes truly accessible and to improve people’s quality of life. When we think about the words I quoted from the EHRC, we see that improving access to, and the level of, disabled facilities grants is essential to meeting individuals’ needs. Although many disabled facilities grants are comparatively modest and do not involve massive structural change, it is vital that the cap should not prevent those who need more major changes from accessing them.
Commenting on the English housing survey last week, Habinteg chief executive, Sheron Carter, said:
“Whilst it’s encouraging to see the proportion of homes with basic accessibility features increasing to 9% from 5% in 2005, it’s clear that the total proportion of homes which are accessible is still woefully inadequate.”
The current situation is simply not good enough. We need an urgent review of the disabled facilities grant in order to make homes truly accessible and to improve people’s quality of life. We also need to build more accessible homes, and to find ways to ensure that that actually happens.
Last week, I met the Minister for Housing, Christopher Pincher, together with Kerry Thompson, a Habinteg resident living in an accessible home in Milton Keynes. We discussed the proposed and long-delayed Government consultation on accessible housing and highlighted the lack of accessible housing. I was happy that the Minister agreed to meet us, but it is obvious that much more needs to be done. Kerry, a wheelchair user, spoke only last week of her experience of living in an accessible home:
“Living in an accessible home myself, I know first-hand how vital they are for a disabled person like me. Accessible and adapted homes help alleviate pressures on health and social care services and budgets. They enable greater independence at home and speed up hospital discharges. This is crucial at a time when our NHS and social care provision is already under enormous strain.”
When we are all spending more time at home than ever before, having a home that is fit for purpose is very important. The Department of Health and Social Care recently announced that £505 million will be made available for the disabled facilities grant in 2020-21—the same as the previous year. That is not good enough to meet the challenge of adapting our existing housing stock. With an ageing housing stock, higher numbers of people over 65, an increase in working-age adults with long-term disabilities and more families with disabled children, the need for essential home adaptations continues to rise, and so does the need for funding. It does not have to be this way, and it should not be this way.
What can we do? The Bill calls for a review of how some aspects of the disabled facilities grant operate. In particular, the Government should look at reviewing the disabled facilities grant cap every year, using inflation-based indices to accurately and consistently set it. Furthermore, a disabled facilities grant registry should be created to enable increased transparency on the number of disabled facilities grant applications and the amounts requested. While the disabled facilities grant cap was last raised in 2008, the cost of adapting homes has gone up, constraining the adaptations that can be made. We must ensure that the grant covers proper, professional building support that will stand the test of time, and we must recognise that we need to develop and fund the best solutions for individuals. On top of that, the Government must review and address the barriers to installing adaptations in the private rented sector. More and more people rent privately, and experience shows that private landlords are often unwilling to allow changes to their properties, even for accessibility purposes.
However, there is another aspect that we need to look at. As smart technology develops and provides real benefits for people with disabilities, we must look at how the disabled facilities grant can be used to take advantage of those developments for housing stock. Smart homes enable older and disabled people to easily operate things around their homes, to stay connected socially and to feel safe and supported—and they enable independence. Recent research shows that cost and poor digital cabling are major barriers to accessing smart home technology, so, where it is assessed as being helpful, the disabled facilities grant should also cover the costs of the installation of cabling and other home modifications to improve digital connectivity.
Of course, we need to move to a position where more of the new homes we build are fully accessible. An insight report by Habinteg last year revealed that just 1% of homes to be built outside London by 2030 are set to be wheelchair accessible. Less than half of all planning authorities have set requirements for new homes to meet the higher accessibility standards.
We cannot continue to kick the can down the road on this issue. That is why we need the consultation on accessible housing that I mentioned. Until we have a real commitment to building that housing, we will continue to rely on the disabled facilities grant to adapt our current inaccessible homes. We need to adapt the scheme and make it better fit the needs of people such as those with muscular dystrophy, who need essential adaptations to make their homes fit their needs and provide the independence that they are entitled to expect.
Question put and agreed to.
That Liz Twist, Mary Glindon, Steve McCabe, Andrew Gwynne, Grahame Morris, Yvonne Fovargue, Bambos Charalambous, Jeff Smith, Rosie Duffield, Kate Osborne, Matt Western and Barbara Keeley present the Bill.
Liz Twist accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday