Monday 11 June 2018
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
Joan McAlpine chose these words, by Maya Angelou, to open a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament on Appropriate Housing for People with Learning Disabilities.
They serve as a reminder that for each of us, a home is so much more than four walls and a roof. It is a space in which we can be ourselves. It is somewhere we expect to feel safe from harm.
It serves as a base for connecting us with the wider community, and all the opportunities for friendship and engagement we hope this will provide. Yet for people with learning disabilities in Scotland, there remain persistent barriers to ensuring that this “ache for a home” always finds a proper response.
There is no doubt that the housing landscape for people with learning disabilities in Scotland has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. The dramatic reduction in the number of people housed in hospital or NHS settings when there is no clinical need for them to be there was a major achievement for the Independent Living Movement.
Advances in accessible design are helping people with learning disabilities and co-existing physical disabilities, access greater independence. Both housing and learning disability policies are increasingly grounded in values of human rights, empowerment and personalisation.
However, while all these developments are welcome, our Ipsos MORI report for the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability (SCLD) found that significant obstacles remain to translating laudable values into real improvements in outcomes for all people with learning disabilities.
Among the issues identified were:
- Significant challenges around the current supply of affordable and accessible housing
- Difficulties faced by people with learning disabilities in accessing the right advice and guidance about housing;
- Major concerns about the funding of housing support in Scotland (an issue highlighted again this month, with the decision by Glasgow City Council to remove sleepover assistance for adults with disabilities)
- Welfare reform, which is impacting on people with learning disabilities both directly (for example, losing income as a result of PIP reassessments) and indirectly (by creating uncertainty around planning for future supported accommodation)
- Legal barriers – in particular a perceived increase in landlords insisting on establishing capacity before people can sign tenancies and a related insistence on ‘guardianship orders’.
Our research also highlighted the fragmented nature of the housing landscape for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.
There appear to be substantial variations in the choices available to people with learning disabilities across different local authority areas.
Many local authorities appear to be hampered in their planning efforts not only by a lack of resources, but also by a lack of data on people with learning disabilities.
Yet the picture is not all negative.
Our report also includes case studies which illustrate the enormous positive contribution housing has made to the lives of individual people with learning disabilities; enabling them to live healthy, active, independent lives in their community. But ensuring these outcomes are achievable for everyone with a learning disability will require concerted action by multiple stakeholders.
The scope and complexity of the housing sector mean that real change will require consensus and collaboration – across government, parties and agencies. And of course, people with learning disabilities themselves need to be at the centre of delivery.
Our report for SCLD included a number of recommendations, the first of which was the establishment of on-going national conversation to ensure that momentum is not lost.
I am extremely pleased that this recommendation is being taken forward by a cross-sector task group, convened by SCLD and chaired by Jane Gray, CEO of Ark Housing. The Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP, has also recently indicated that his officials are working to strengthen links between the housing sector and learning disability organisations, families and carers.
It seems the issue is increasingly seen as a priority – not before time, in the view of a number of those interviewed for our research.
If momentum can be maintained, we will be able to look back in another 15 years and celebrate a step change in housing outcomes for people with learning disabilities.
Ipsos MORI Scotland