Golden Lane Housing’s (GLH) new bond scheme to raise money to buy homes for people with learning disabilities is a welcome step in the right direction, but much more will need to be done to address the growing crisis in learning disability housing.
Tough economic times often lead to innovative thinking, and this is certainly the case with GLH, Mencap’s housing arm. Last week it launched a £10 million charity bond to raise money to buy homes for people with a learning disability.
GLH views this as the first step towards raising up to £30 million over the next few years, which will be used to give 250 people with a learning disability the chance to live independently in specially adapted homes.
If this works – investors in the bond market have to go for it, remember – it could pave the way for others to raise finance to buy and adapt houses for people with learning disabilities in the same way.
Hopefully it will. Just 1 in 3 people with a learning disability currently live independently, despite many more wanting to do so. Often the reason for this is a lack of suitable housing.
For instance, recent Mencap research found that 8 in 10 councils in England and Wales reported a housing shortage for adults with a learning disability in their areas, with two thirds stating this has worsened in the past 12 months.
Many others with learning disabilities struggle to compete on the open market, making it virtually impossible to find housing in areas where there is no suitable social housing available.
This means that there are often long waiting lists for housing, large numbers of people living far away from family and friends, and a high number living in accommodation that does not promote independent living.
Worryingly, the situation is set to worsen. With welfare reforms starting to kick in this year – which could see some people with mild to moderate learning disabilities lose a portion of their benefits – as well as the “bedroom tax” on spare rooms, people may be forced to move out of homes that have been adapted to their needs. For those still looking for suitable accommodation, it will further reduce their choices and control over where they live.
The adverse effects of having to move, or of continuing to live in unsuitable accommodation, on their physical and mental health could be significant.
Once again, this goes against the personalisation agenda the Government says it supports. I seem to be writing that sentence a lot these days.
This is a growing problem, and while the situation is complex, and solutions will be hard to come by, the time has come for national action.
Ideally, the Government should put in a place a strategy to address the problem, as called for by Mencap. This could include a directive for all local authorities to have their own plans in place to promote independent living in suitable accommodation. But it also needs a Government drive to lead coordinated thinking about national priorities.
However, I have seen no indication that anything like this wider strategy is on the horizon. This means that housing providers, charities and others will have to keep on trying to do what they can, on their own initiative. Developments like GLH’s point to a possible way forward, but much more needs to be done.
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