Unions call for ‘urgent action’ on accessible housing and winter evictions ban

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has demanded “urgent action” from local authorities to tackle the shortage in accessible housing and has also joined a campaign to ban winter evictions.

A motion calling for improved access to housing for disabled people was passed at the STUC in Dundee yesterday.

Robert Mooney, who sits on STUC’s Disabled Workers Committee, said: “I am glad that we can support Inclusion Scotland’s work on accessible homes. It is a disgrace that, for many disabled people, their right to independent living is not being met and one major reason for this is a lack of affordable, accessible housing. Some people have gone into hospital and are then stuck there because accessible accommodation can’t be found for them or their current home isn’t adjusted.

“This chronic shortage, exacerbated by years of austerity and budget cuts, has to end. The STUC is committed to working alongside other organisations to ensure that the homes of our future are fit for everyone.”

Earlier this year, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) revealed its disappointment in a funding freeze in housing adaptations to enable people to stay in their homes.

Funding from the Scottish Government for adapting homes has effectively been frozen for the last seven years, the SFHA said.

The Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee also raised concerns of a growing funding gap for adaptation work and that disabled tenants of housing associations continue to be more likely to be disadvantaged.

Susie Fitton, policy officer for Inclusion Scotland, added: “We are delighted to see this motion from the STUC. Disabled people have a right to adequate and accessible housing yet thousands are living in homes across Scotland where they cannot wash themselves, use the toilet, cook and prepare meals in a kitchen, or get in and out of the house without considerable support.

“However despite the now well-documented shortfall in the supply of accessible housing we are simply not building or adapting enough homes in Scotland for disabled people, particularly wheelchair users. Over 17,000 wheelchair users are living in unsuitable homes across Scotland and this unmet need is set to increase by 80% by 2024. However between 2008 and 2016, 132,994 new homes were built in Scotland, yet only 1,427 were built to wheelchair accessible standards.

“This is simply unacceptable. Being unable to buy or rent an accessible home can literally imprison disabled people - in their own homes, in hospital, or in residential care against their will. This leads to poor heath, intolerable stress for families and the need for additional social care support. Disabled people living in inaccessible houses are also four times less likely to be in employment.

“Inclusion Scotland had called for a national 10% target for wheelchair accessible homes as a first step to addressing some of these issue. The Scottish Government have instead recently issued guidance to local authorities to help them set local targets for the development of wheelchair accessible homes across all tenures.

“Given that currently only 17% of local authorities have targets in this regard we look forward to seeing every local authority in Scotland setting ambitious targets for wheelchair accessible housing, higher than 10% where this is needed.

“But more needs to be done. We know that our design standards for social and private housing are out of date and do not always provide the space standards that disabled people need, our system of funding and providing adaptations is failing and disabled people who want to buy accessible home in Scotland can find this virtually impossible. We need a strategic approach to tackling these issues across tenure and we have no time to lose.”

Meanwhile, the STUC has voted to back a campaign to ban evictions during winter months.

Along with trades union councils, it will lend its weight to Living Rent’s Winter Break campaign in Scotland which seeks to stop evictions for anyone who has a legal tenancy agreement, or in a mortgaged home, or in sheltered accommodation even if they cannot afford to pay their rent.

While landlords can begin eviction proceedings, they cannot forcibly remove tenants until April 1 onwards. It is meant as a humanitarian measure, to ensure that people do not end up homeless in the coldest part of the year.

It also avoids costly eviction proceedings (on average £16,000 each) and emergency accommodation and allows time for people to get support to address the problem.

Supporting a Glasgow Trades Union Council motion, Unison’s Kim McLachlan, who represents members working for the biggest social housing landlord in Scotland, told delegates: “I suppose the biggest question is whether the suspension of evictions for rent arrears is actually feasible? And I believe the answer to that question lies in the answer to the first question I asked Glasgow Housing Association’s managing director. How many evictions had Glasgow Housing Association carried out to date this winter?

“The answer – none. So, it can be done.”

Kim said the language and practice around rent arrears and evictions has to change: “Sorting out an issue with rent more times than not will only shift the emphasis from rents to something else. Landlords must consider not just arrears free but debt free.

“Everything ranging from support with budgeting skills, assistance with fuel costs, welfare benefit advisers, food packages, financial assistance and even furniture packages are offered to social tenants to support them with overall budgeting. This clearly has a knock on effect on a tenant’s ability to pay rent.”

The STUC will facilitate a Winter Break summit, alongside all relevant stakeholders, commit to a day of action on November 1 and urge all trade unions to affiliate to Living Rent.

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