HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc575-7W
Mr. Carter-Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action and progress there has been since the announcement, on 4th February 1975, of the drive on housing for people who are physically handicapped; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeson

Following my original announcement, I asked the regional housing officers of my Department to make provision for disabled people an integral part of their subsequent programme discussions with housing authorities. We have published design guidance on the provision of wheelchair housing as well as on the new concept of mobility housing. Special subsidisable additions have been made to housing cost yardsticks for disabled people's housing.

While there is no room for complacency, there has been moderate progress and the response to the drive I initiated a year ago has been encouraging. It takes time to influence future programmes in terms of housing starts; and the figures for 1975, which are now available, may not fully reflect the whole range of provision now in the pipeline. Even so, they show that housing authorities and new town corporations in England and Wales made proposals for building 863 wheelchair dwellings, compared with an average of less than 500 proposals a year in the four years since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970; and that they completed 582, compared with 595 completions for all the previous years since the Act. A further 160 proposals were made by housing associations which completed 31 dwellings in 1975, bringing their total since the Act to 423 proposals and 136 completions. During 1975 local authorities proposed 777 of the new "mobility" homes, of which 186 were started. Housing associations proposed 436 such dwellings.

At the time of my original announcement, 193 of the 366 housing authorities in England had made no proposals for new building for disabled people at all. This figure has now been brought down to 80, of which 24 are known to undertake adaptations in existing dwellings.

Adaptation is a way which many local authorities use to increase provision for the disabled. This enables them to remain in familiar surroundings, and particular needs to be met more quickly. My Department, with DHSS and the Welsh Office, have issued a consultation paper on rationalising the overlapping rôles and responsibilities of housing and social service authorities. Meanwhile, I have decided that the cost of adapting housing authorities' dwellings for disabled people should not count against their capital allocation under Section 105 of the Housing Act 1974 in England. Private owners are starting to use the new renovation grants, introduced in the 1974 Act, specifically for adaptation for disabled people; and these grants are now payable irrespective of the date of construction.

Whatever progress has been made during the past year, I remain far from satisfied with the extent of provision planned. Out of a total public sector effort in England and Wales of 154,000 housing starts, it is just not enough when the number of people confined to a wheelchair is estimated at nearly 50,000; and more units of mobility housing and adaptations for other disabled persons and their families are certainly needed. I want to see the increased momentum of 1975 sustained and improved upon. In the immediate future I shall pay particular attention to the areas where there has been virtually no new provision in recent years.

In consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security with special responsibility for the disabled, I will consider what other steps we might usefully take to promote a continuing housing drive for the disabled. Proper assessment of need is becoming increasingly important. It is clear that this is being inadequately undertaken; so my Department is now sponsoring research at Chelsea College, London University, into this. I shall welcome the continued help and constructive criticism of bodies such as the Central Council for the Disabled, the Centre on Environment for the Handicapped, the Greater London Association for the Disabled, and the National Federation of Housing Associations, in resolving the difficulties which can arise over providing housing for disabled people.