The Simon Heng column

One of the crucial issues for people with all forms of disability –
and for older people, who need services because they are becoming
disabled in some way – is good accommodation.

Thirty years ago, suitable accommodation for people like me with
severe physical disabilities would have been a hospital ward or
nursing home. For people with a learning difficulty or mental
illness, suitable accommodation would have been an asylum; for
older people with any form of need, an older people’s “home”,
another asylum.

Fifteen years ago, a few disabled people would have their own
accommodation, but social services still regimented lives through
the organisation or provision of home care. Most people were still
living in institutions: care in the community meant hostels
(smaller institutions), where people lived communal lives, with
some autonomy. Families who owned their own homes were encouraged
to look after their dependants with very little support.

Today, the push is for places for people to live independently,
while still being able to obtain the support that they need. The
Supporting People programme, and direct payments, are intended to
help this process, along with government funding for “special
needs” social housing.

The problem with this approach is that housing providers don’t seem
to understand the social model of disability, and how someone’s
care needs might vary with the kind of place they live in. In my
area there is a patchy history of partnership working between
housing and social services. There isn’t even a jointly operated
register of adapted housing: there are stories of adaptations being
ripped out of a vacated home so that the next (non-disabled) people
on the list can move in quickly, rather than allocating it to
someone who needs those adaptations.

There are innovative collaborations between care and housing
providers, like the core and cluster models, where communities of
people with similar needs are served by care providers on site –
but some of us actually want to live in the community, rather than
in a ghetto.

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