Social investors urged to help end learning disability housing crisis

Government cuts to social housing and capital spending are reducing housing options for learning disabled people. Mencap's housing arm is asking socially-minded investors to fill the gap through its new charity bond, says director Alastair Graham.

Today, just one in three people with a learning disability are able to live independently, even though many more would like to.  

Housing options have been limited due to the reliance on social housing and capital grants from the government. And there is a severe shortage of both.  In fact, recent Mencap research found that 8 in 10 councils in England and Wales report a shortage of suitable accommodation for people with a learning disability in their areas.

As the housing arm of Mencap, Golden Lane Housing (GLH) develops tailored housing solutions to support independent living for people with learning disabilities, and we now have over 1,100 tenancies.

Our response to this shortage in the last few years has been to lease from private landlords, but this often fails to provide a long-term housing solution, in particular for those with profound and multiple disabilities where adaptations need to be made to the homes that landlords do not allow. 

Funding cuts and growing demand

With cuts in public funding starting to bite, and with demand for housing higher than ever, Mencap and GLH decided to explore other options to finance homes for people with a learning disability. So we applied and were awarded £349,000 in seed funding from The Big Lottery Fund to develop our new housing bond, in partnership with Triodos Bank.  

We have just launched the first tranche of bonds, and are aiming to raise up to £10m – making it the largest charity bond issue of its kind in the UK – from a wide range of social investors and individuals over the coming months. Using the money raised, we’ll buy permanent homes for people with a learning disability that can be adapted to suit their needs. Those investing in the bond will receive a return of 4% per annum, and their money back in full after five years, with returns financed through rental payments and expected rises in the value of property. 

This is the first step in raising up to £30m over the next few years, to give 250 people with a learning disability the chance to live independently in specially adapted homes. Four young friends, Claire, James, Lizzie and Sarah (pictured), will be among the first to benefit and will be moving into a new house in Huby, North Yorkshire, next month.

Winterbourne impact

Following the abuse scandal at Winterbourne View, demand for housing for people with a learning disability can only increase, as the government has committed to return many of the approximately 3,000 people currently in NHS-funded inpatient facilities to their local communities
Clearly our bond isn’t the silver bullet to solve the growing housing crisis faced by people with a learning disability. But in difficult times, we need creative and ambitious solutions and charities must act to widen their sources of funding.  We are confident that our bond will raise the capital we need to help us support more people than ever, and hope it acts as a new model for social investment within the charity and housing sectors.

Find out more about the GLH Bond.

Alastair Graham is director of Golden Lane Housing

Picture credit: Layton Thompson/Golden Lane Housing

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