HC Deb 05 November 1971 vol 825 cc601-12

4.2 p.m.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

It is with great pleasure that I raise the subject of housing for the disabled.

I have to apologise to the House, since I have contraced that well known parliamentary disease, laryngitis. However, I have waited for this debate for a long time and I think that I ought to do my best to continue.

My first task is to prove the extent of the problem and the overall need for registration and further action. On 4th May of this year the Department of Health and Social Security published a survey which gives the most detailed

picture every produced of impaired and handicapped people living in our community. It shows that about 1¼ million people aged over 16 and living in private households in Great Britain have some physical handicap. The survey covers ¼ million households, and personal interviews of more than 12,700 people were conducted, all during the year 1968-69. It is clear, therefore, that whatever statistics emerge, they should be extremely accurate.

The survey defines impairment as lack of part or all of a limb or having a defective limb or organism or mechanism of the body. More than 3 million adults have such an impairment.

This debate is concerned solely with the disabled. In the survey, disablement is defined as the loss or reduction of functional ability as the result of impairment. Some of the major conclusions in the survey were that Wales and Yorkshire have the highest proportion of impaired men. That is understandable, being no doubt due to industrial injuries in those areas. London and the South-East have the lowest. The highest proportion of impaired women is found in the South-West. of which my constituency forms part.

From my investigations into the statistics, it became clear that though facts were available there was a great inadequacy of information. It seems unlikely that my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State has or will have in the future sufficient information at his disposal to determine whether local authorities are carrying out their duties under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, 1970. The only provision for ensuring this in housing is contained in Section 3(1), which requires local authorities to distinguish, in any proposals for the provision of new houses those provided to meet the needs of the chronically sick and disabled. For example, the Ministry has no figures on the total number of purpose-built council houses in the country, let alone a regional breakdown, which could be compared with the needs in various areas or the numbers registered. In addition, the Ministry has no figures for the amount of private accommodation which is being adapted to meet the needs of the disabled, nor of the amount of financial aid which different local authorities or all local authorities give for this purpose. In addition, in spite of the duties imposed on local authorities by Section 1 of the 1970 Act, it also seems unlikely that local authorities will complete a detailed schedule of household deficiency when a disabled person is newly registered. It must not be forgotten that Section 1 of the Act came into force on 1st October.

The facts which emerge from the survey are startling. Only 160,000 persons aged 16 or over, living in private house- holds, are registered; 82 per cent. of impaired people questioned had never heard of the register; only one in eight v;ha is handicapped is registered. In fact, only 7 per cent. in northern England and 6 per cent. in Scotland are registered. It was found that much higher proportions were registered in the Greater London area—17 per cent.—and the east and west Midlands—16 per cent. It was staggering to find that there are 360,000 severely handicapped women in Great Britain, and even more staggering that 1,049,000 impaired women in Great Britain are active housewives, though a considerable proportion of them are limited in the amount of house-keeping they are able to do.

Only one in 20 impaired persons is living in purpose-built accommodation, and just over three-fifths of impaired persons live in accommodation with stairs. One in 10 is unable to use part of his or her accommodation because of disability, mainly due to stairs, and 8 per cent. of these always sleep in the living room.

What type of households are we talking about? One in four impaired persons is an owner-occupier owning accommodation outright; another one in four is a council tenant; and 18 per cent. live in privately rented unfurnished accommodation. The rest are non-householders; they live in rooms, or live rent-free, obviously with relatives or friends.

What have they done to make their own property easier and safer to live in? Of all impaired persons, 77 per cent. have had no adaptation at all made to their accommodation. It is interesting to note that 50 per cent. of those registered as physically handicapped with the local authorities have had at least one altera- tion or addition made, compared with only 21 per cent. among the non- registered.

What is the demand for adaptation? One in five would like some adaptations made; 29 per cent. made no attempt to get adaptations made, or said that they could not afford the costs; 11 per cent. said that the reason for not doing so was that the local authorities were no good— that is a severe condemnation of some local authorities—and, 8 per cent. said that they did not know where to go or what was available.

Two sources of information available to me would obviously be able to advise any disabled person who wishes to inquire—first, the Central Council for the Disabled, London, S.W.1, and second, the Habinteg Housing Association Ltd., also in London, a charity which has very futuristic ideas on the integration of the disabled into society. The newly- appointed housing director of the Central Council said that he had not conducted a survey of local authorities which were providing purpose-built housing for the disabled. He has, however, visited all the London boroughs to discuss their provisions, and has found that the standards vary considerably from borough to borough.

In some cases the director of social services, the housing manager and the chief architect work well together and are keen to build adequately for the disabled. In other cases the housing manager is more concerned with balancing his accounts. Overall, the housing director found a consensus of opinion in the London boroughs, but thought that a certain percentage of homes designed especially for the disabled should be built when new estates were under construction. Only very few boroughs were thinking in terms of 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of new constructions. In fact, the housing director was able to give me particular boroughs, but the information was scattered and incomplete.

Hackney, which has a total housing stock of 11,085 dwellings, in 1970-71 spent £3,500 on adaptations. In 1971-72 it estimates spending £10,000.

In Hounslow, the dwellings total 7,044. In 1970-71, Hounslow spent £6,500 on adaptations, and in 1971-72 it estimates spending £7,000. But, to counterbalance this, it has an extremely good record in purpose-built accommodation. It has built eight dwellings per year over the past five years.

Birmingham, the second biggest housing authority in the country, whose total dwellings number 139,932, has only four purpose-built houses, but it has adapted 14 corporation houses at a cost in excess of £100 each, and some of them at a cost approaching £1,000.

In my area in Southampton, whose housing stock is in the region of 23,000 dwellings, we have six purpose-built flats. The expenditure on adaptations in 1970-71 was £3,616, and for 1971-72 it is estimated to be £4,100.

The Habinteg Housing Association wrote to inform me that there is very little suitable accommodation for the severely disabled anywhere in the United Kingdom, and that where this has been provided it has frequently been at the expense of community integration. The planners seem to overlook the fact that disabled people have no wish to live together any more than any other group, and that a disabled person provided with a flat designed to meet his or her architectural needs can well be as isolated as a prisoner in it, simply because the rest of the community is not accessible.

This, indeed, is often true, but in this problem let us not run before we can walk. The purpose-built buildings have to be provided in the first instance. Where does the money come from? There are financial subsidies from the Department of the Environment to local authorities for the provision of purpose-built houses. At the moment the position is stated clearly in Circular 12/70. Special features needed by people with different disabilities—for example, wheelchair users—are taken into account in calculating the subsidy payable under the Housing Subsidy Act, 1967. Where local authorities are unable to provide specially designed housing for the disabled within their very tight housing cost yardsticks, they are to apply to the Ministry for an ad hocyardstick to be assessed, which will take into account any necessary higher costs. Where it is necessary for garages and car ports to be provided for use by the disabled, these items are exceptionally allowed to rank for subsidy within the cost limits agreed by the Ministry.

But now the position has altered. The new White Paper, "Fair Deal for Housing ", which outlines the new legislation—the Bill was published this week and will be placed before Parliament this winter—made no mention of subsidies for purpose-built housing. In fact, according to the Department of the Environment, the direct subsidy for purpose-built housing will disappear, since there will be no special subsidy for any building.

Realising that this was an oversight, I wrote to the Minister and also tabled a Question for Written Answer, to which I received the following reply: The cost of providing this accommodation will be taken into account in assessing local authorities' entitlement to the new subsidies." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1971; Vol. 822, c. 440.] In the White Paper, Appendix 2(1) page 20, the disabled may receive an extra needs allowance for a blind tenant or spouse. This allowance will be £1.25 if one of them is blind and £2 if both of them are blind.

There is no mention so far of the disabled, but Appendix 2(8) in page 22 states that the local authority will have the discretion to grant a special rebate or allowance if the person's personal circumstances are exceptional. This, although recognising the problem, leaves it once again to the discretion of local authorities who in some cases will be more than generous while in others will turn a blind eye to the problems of the disabled.

This is no new thing. In the whole of the Cullingworth Report the disabled received only half a page of mention, although the report covers the whole of council housing purposes, procedures and priorities. In that half page is mentioned an excellent paper given by Mr. P. J. Dickson, Director of Housing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He says that the cost of ensuring that at least a percentage of all ground floor flats or bungalows are built in such a way as to be particularly suitable for the physically handicapped person is minimal, but the provision of wide door openings, space for wheel-chair alongside the toilet, low electric light switches, provision for a low-level sink, waist-high electric outlet sockets, shallow ramps instead of steps, etc., only represents a fractional increase in initial building costs, but the same items cost quite staggeringly high sums of money if they have to be provided at a later date. It does not seem unreasonable to expect the housing authority to bear the costs of this new kind of provision leaving the welfare authority to bear the cost of any additional aids or adaptations necessary to meet the needs of a particular handicap. There is merit in ensuring that in every new housing development a small number of homes are provided with the kind of features mentioned even if no special need is immediately apparent. The homes provided would be quite acceptable to ordinary families but would, in the course of time, be available for reletting, by which time there might well be families with handicapped members waiting for such accommodation. There is a fear that specially-designed dwellings will be wasted, but the evidence in the Cullingworth Report convinces me that these fears are misplaced. Indeed, a proportion of special dwellings actually avoid this problem. Only when there is a very small number of such dwellings do management problems arise.

The report goes further, to state that a number of cases have arisen where disabled people have apparently had difficulty in obtaining, or have even been precluded from applying for, council houses on the grounds that they are already in adequate accommodation. The report says that the committee would not think that that was general, but even if one authority is doing this it is one too many. Most local authorities rightly have regard to the adequacy of the accommodation for the family or person concerned.

Having proved, I hope, the existence of a mammoth problem, the overall need for registration, need for immediate action by local authorities and action by the Government in clarifying the financial subsidies for purpose-built housing, this scrutiny should take place when the new Housing Bill is before Parliament. It is essential that at least 2 per cent. of all council dwellings being built at this time should be purpose-built for the disabled. It is up to the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Social Services to ensure that these provisions are made by local authorities and that every effort is continued to assist with the adaptations of the homes of the disabled.

If I might summarise, I would say that there are five points to answer—first, a publicity campaign to ensure maximum registration of the disabled—and let us not, I beg, rely solely on voluntary bodies; second, Ministry directives to local authorities to ensure that 2 per cent. of all housing stock in the future is purpose-built dwellings for the disabled; third, adequate financial subsidies from the Government for local authorities to encourage purpose-built dwellings; fourth, full information regarding the free financial help available to the disabled for the adaptation of their homes, and lastly, maximum help to both public and private sectors to ensure 100 per cent. adaptation of all their homes. If these five provisions can be implemented they will go a long way towards solving the problems of one of the most neglected areas in housing—an area which has been proved to be of national importance.

This is a hidden problem, and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, now that local authorities are commencing their registers, will produce a mountain of problems for local authorities. I beg my hon. Friend to look closely into this question.

4.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Paul Channon):

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) has done a great service by raising this subject this afternoon. He has taken a persistent interest in housing since his election, and a great interest in the problems of the disabled. I agree with him that this matter is extremely important and that the provision of suitable housing is one of the highest priorities for the disabled. I can assure him that all he has said will be most carefully studied.

It is true that there has been a new impetus in this sphere in particular since the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, 1970. Local social services authorities now have a statutory obligation to assess the requirements of a disabled person in relation to a number of matters, including the carrying out of work of adaptation, and, where they are satisfied that the need exists, to make appropriate arrangements. Parliament has thus already placed upon social services authorities a statutory duty to give assistance wherever this is needed, and, as my hon. Friend knows, over the years there have been a number of circulars issued by different Ministries about housing for the disabled, particularly drawing attention to the manual of technical information "Designing for the Disabled" written by Mr. Selwyn Goldsmith and published by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Since the passing of the 1970 Act a circular has been issued jointly by the Government Departments concerned to all local authorities drawing their attention not only to the obligation placed upon local authorities by the Housing Act, 1957, but to the Report of the Central Housing Management Sub-Committee entitled "Council Housing— Purposes, Procedures and Priorities." This report emphasised the necessity for housing authorities to have a much more detailed understanding of the housing situation in their areas in order to make sure, among other things, that they were not overlooking needs not so far brought to their notice. The circular sent out said that local authorities were expected to act in the spirit of that report in relation to the needs of the disabled as well as to other housing needs. It also drew attention to the revised and expanded edition of Mr. Goldsmith's "Designing for the Disabled".

My hon. Friend referred particularly to the subsidy arrangements. Specially designed housing for the disabled can be more costly to provide than normal housing. Under present legislation the housing subsidy is in effect a percentage grant increasing as the cost of providing a dwelling increases. My Department is prepared to consider the approval of an ad hoc yardstick to take account of any necessary higher costs for this purpose. As set out in the Housing Finance Bill, the whole subsidy system at present is having to be restructured, but the cost of providing specially designed housing for the disabled will be taken into account in assessing local authorities' entitlement to the new subsidies, and no doubt my hon. Friend and I can have further discussions on this during the months lying ahead.

The purpose of the whole Bill is to give assistance to the tenant rather than to the property and to put housing authorities on a proper basis in order that they may cope with the housing needs of their area. Undoubtedly, in my view, the needs of the disabled will be one of the things to which they will be directing themselves, and I hope that local authorities will concentrate their attention more than in the past upon the needs of the sick, the elderly or the disabled in the community for whom there will be a continuing need to build and otherwise provide by local authorities.

Perhaps it is early days yet, but there is some evidence that one of the effects of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has been to give new impetus to the provision of specially designed housing for the disabled. Provision was already being made before the passing of the Act, but the number of authorities which have submitted proposals to the Department since Section 3 of the Act came into force last August has risen from 27 last February to 85 now. This is an encouraging trend and shows the growing interest which is being displayed.

My hon. Friend will agree that not every disabled person needs a specially designed dwelling. In many cases his needs can be adequately met by carrying out adaptations to the house he already occupies. Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has amended the position to the extent that local social services authorities now have a statutory obligation to assess the requirements of a disabled person in relation to a number of matters, including the carrying out of works of adaptation to his home, and, where they are satisfied that a need exists, to make appropriate arrangements.

My hon. Friend referred to the report published earlier this year of a survey of the handicapped and impaired in Great Britain carried out by the social survey division of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. This survey was designed to give reliable estimates of the number of adult handicapped people living in private dwellings in Great Britain and to indicate to what extent their needs were being met by local authority health and welfare services. The report contains a chapter on housing, but a study of housing conditions was not a major object of the survey.

It has subsequently been decided that the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health and Social Security are to co-operate in a follow- up study which will be devoted exclusively to housing. The object of this study will be to establish the extent to which the housing needs of the disabled can best be met by adapting the disabled person's existing dwelling, by providing him with a new house to Parker Morris standards, or by providing him with a new dwelling specially designed for him.

This study is likely to take a little while. As an interim measure it is my right hon. Friend's intention to issue a circular within the next two or three months giving advice to housing authorities on what they can be doing to assist the disabled while the follow-up study is being carried out. Then finally, when the study has been completed, we shall be taking a fresh look at the whole of our policy on housing the disabled in the light of the results that this study has produced. I think that this study will be very important.

My hon. Friend has suggested that there should be a mandatory requirement on local authorities to have at least 2 per cent. of their stock built for the disabled. My hon. Friend, with his long experience of local authority housing, will recognise that we have no power to impose such a mandatory requirement. I question whether it would be right for the central Government to impose such a mandatory requirement on local authorities. I hope that it will not prove to be necessary. I certainly think that it would be wrong to impose such a mandatory requirement in advance of the results of the study to which I have referred.

A set proportion of accommodation for the disabled in all future schemes would be impracticable. Disability takes very different forms. Persons in wheel chairs need wide corridors. Deaf persons need a flashing light when the door bell rings. Blind persons have different requirements from people with kidney machines.

The need for accommodation to meet different types of disability will vary from area to area. It must be right that local authorities should provide what is needed in each individual case. There is some evidence that local authorities have not been inattentive to this. There is evidence that impaired persons who are local authority tenants are much more likely to have had bannister rails, bath handrails or toilet handrails fitted free of charge than any other class of tenants.

We need more information about all these matters, and I believe that we must press ahead with obtaining this information by means of the study.

Section 3 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act requires that housing authorities, which have to have regard to the special needs of chronically sick or disabled persons, shall, in submitting proposals for new houses, distinguish any which make special provision for the needs of such persons. It is necessary to keep the Department informed about this matter, but the requirement in Section 3 relates only to housing proposals. Arrangements have now been made with local authorities for them to supply information in their monthly housing progress reports of the number of houses for the disabled which they start and complete each month. This has necessitated a new print of the form, and the first statistics on starts and completions will be provided shortly.

I hope that that will go some way to meeting one of the points raised by my hon. Friend. This will not give the number of purpose-built council houses built in the past. Many local authorities have preferred to adapt housing for disabled tenants. As I have said, we are trying to find out to what extent a purpose-built house is the right solution.

I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will feel that this debate has served a useful purpose and that he will continue with his energetic campaign to press upon both the Government and the local authorities the need to consider very clearly in the years ahead the important and continuing rÔle they have to play in providing housing for the disabled. This is one of the most important functions that a local authority will have in future in its housing activities. My hon. Friend has done a service in raising this matter today, and I hope that we shall have further opportunities of debating it in more detail at leisure.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.