Blog: Blackwood chief executive responds to EHRC report on disability housing

Fanchea Kelly

A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland (EHRC) which calls on the Scottish Government to produce a strategy to ensure there’s an adequate supply of housing for people with disabilities is a positive call to action for accessible modern housing, with support, which meets the needs of disabled people across the country, writes Fanchea Kelly.

We welcome this report from the EHRC. It is a direct call to action to improve the lives of many people with its four recommendations.

In Blackwood, as the EHRC was beginning its research in 2016, we set out to demonstrate a new standard for independent living for Scotland. Since then we completed our new Blackwood House as a real example of a design which is to be beautiful, affordable, highly accessible, and connected, so that residents can live as independently as possible.

Our innovative design has been shaped by people with disabilities and their influence on our design has been profound.

The clever design and integrated technology supports people to do more for themselves. This might be as simple as home automation which opens the blinds in the morning, or it might be as life changing as accommodating a carer and lots of equipment if the time comes that otherwise might require moving to residential care or hospital.

We were delighted that EHRC recognised that more can already be done. The economics of our approach aims to invest in the home so that the long term cost of further adaptations or care services can be minimized.

We fully support the EHRC contention that more scope could be created within the overall programme of 50,000 new homes for Scotland, and we also want to see a strong commitment to delivering for disabled housing needs beyond 2020.

We have had excellent support from the housing minister and Scottish Government officials as we built our first prototype Blackwood House development in Dundee, so we are hopeful that this could be the start of a significant programme to improve the rights of disabled people across the country over the next five years.

The EHRC report discovered shameful stories of people being unable to leave their homes and sleeping, eating and bathing in one room.

It highlights that there are 61,000 disabled Scots who are waiting for their homes to be adapted and a further 17,000 wheelchair users who are housed in houses that are simply not up to the job, while only 1.5% of housing associations homes are wheelchair accessible.

And the problem isn’t one that’s simply going to go away, with estimates suggesting that demand for highly accessible homes will rise by 80% in the next five years.

The findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland also found that disabled people living in inaccessible houses were four times less likely to be in work than those who were properly housed, so this problem affects people in all areas of their life.

We know it doesn’t have to be like that and solutions are there, either to adapt existing homes or to build new, and to take advantage of the technological changes that are prevalent in other areas of society, so that people can live their life to the full.

Considerable investment in research and development by Blackwood created our blueprint for this type of accessible house, with a Design Guide produced with architects Lewis and Hickey. We really hope that our Design Guide can contribute to the review of the existing standard of ‘Housing for Varying Needs’ which the EHRC calls for as another of its recommendations.

Blackwood’s CleverCogs system

Our bespoke digital care system, CleverCogs, is installed in each house in touch screen tablets and enables customers to open blinds, order shopping, control the TV and stay connected with friends and family, all at the touch of a button.

The design features a central core of kitchen and bathroom – with movable fittings and rise and fall units - which provides greater circulation space for easy access.

Such has been the success of the first demonstration homes, we are pleased that the city councils in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee have asked us to deliver up to 160 of the life changing homes over the next four years.

We truly believe the Blackwood House concept offers a solution to this national housing crisis - and with the correct funding, we aim to turn this into a reality, with an even larger programme which helps to fulfill the EHRC recommendations.

However we were also pleased to see that EHRC has shone a light on the need to integrate housing, care and health services to support people to live independently. We strongly believe that this needs action in Scotland.

We believe that significantly greater national consideration should be given to new models of housing with integrated support and care in Scotland. We hope the Health Minister would support this aim, giving leadership to more preventative work within the Health and Social Care Partnerships.

The EHRC recommendations brings out the importance of the housing contribution as we make sure people with disabilities can live independently and have choices in their lives.

  • Fanchea Kelly, chief executive of Blackwood, has more than 20 years’ experience in housing and care in a number of senior roles across Scotland.

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