The severe shortage of “accessible and adaptable” housing in England lead to accidents and hospital admissions among elderly and disabled.
A leaked report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found Britain’s current planning rules are fueling a housing crisis for the elderly and disabled, forcing them to live in dangerous conditions, leading to a clarion call for more adequately equipped care homes.
The Commission, a human rights watchdog, inquired into the state of housing for disabled people in Britain and found that there was a severe shortage of “accessible and adaptable” housing in England. A paltry 7% of houses had minimal accessibility features.
The Commission’s report comes at a time of a growing social care crisis in Britain. The UK’s population is ageing rapidly, with numbers of the elderly and disabled on the rise. ONS predicts that the number of those aged 65 and over will grow to nearly a quarter of the population by 2046.
The report found that elderly and disabled people were left in unsafe homes which led to accidents and hospital admissions. Some were forced into “eating, sleeping and bathing in one room” and to rely on family members to carry them between rooms and up stairs.
Many elderly and frail people are currently stuck in hospitals, unable to be discharged due to inadequate housing and care. Known among some local doctors as ‘bed blockers’, this segment adds to the backlog of patients that currently beleaguer the NHS.
The report warned that local councils are failing to build enough accessible care homes to meet demand and were not taking action against developers who did not comply with regulations.
Local authorities told the Commission that developers do not build accessible care homes because they are not profitable. Just 3% of councils took enforcement action against developers who failed to meet standards.
The Commission said that at least 10% of all future housing should be built with the growing elderly and disabled population in mind and that local authorities must reduce bureaucratic hurdles for adapting homes.
The report also said that people were forced to wait an average of 22 weeks between application and the installation of home adaptations necessary to live safely and independently, with some waiting for more than a year.
Better housing would help ease the health and social care crisis as poor housing led to an “increased need for social care” and “avoidable hospital admissions”.
George McNamara, director of policy and public affairs at Independent Age, the older people’s charity, said: “These are some of the most vulnerable people but they’re forgotten when it comes to housing policy. They are being discriminated against by a system that doesn’t work for them.
“This issue is only going to become more important as our population ages and people have a greater need for specialist housing that addresses all their health and care needs.
“Disabled older people are being let down and this is a stark reminder that urgent action is needed, which is the least they deserve in a compassionate society.”
Rob Wilson, former Government minister for civil society, said: “This isn’t a new problem, but this is a timely report and reminder that disabled people face enormous challenges with getting appropriate housing,”
“Almost every local authority area faces the same difficulty in getting enough wheelchair-accessible houses built. The Government’s drive to increase house building is very welcome, but clearly there is much more to do for those with these special requirements.”
Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said councils needed greater planning powers and resources to hold developers to account.
“Housing is too often unavailable, unaffordable, and not appropriate for everyone that needs it. This includes the availability of homes suitable for older people and people in vulnerable circumstances,” she said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Our new planning rules make clear that councils must take the needs of elderly and disabled people into account when planning new homes in their area,”
“We’re also providing councils with almost £1 billion over the next two years to adapt properties for disabled and older people so they can live independently and safely.”
The stark reality is that supply will not be able to keep up with demand. With the woefully short supply of accessible housing, and inability of family members to care for the elderly or disabled member, private care homes are in great demand in the UK. This has opened up investment opportunities for investors, with yields of 8% and above while at the same time giving them a chance to play a pivotal part in providing care homes for the elderly.
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By Ian Choong