What if there were a way to reduce the cost of Adult Social Care without leaving anyone at risk? What if there were a way to improve the quality of life of thousands of people without creating new legislation? What if we could reduce the burden on the NHS without making any changes to vital services? What if there were a way to reduce the employment gap between those with disabilities and those without, yet avoid the controversy and debate that is associated with changes to welfare?
There is such a way. There is a way to do all this without cuts, uncertainty, misery and outcry. There is one simple way that has been overlooked, and not just by this government. What would you say if you discovered that the government, and the previous government, and the government before that had known how to do this, but had chosen not to?
This is the position I find myself in today: one woman, one keyboard, one message. Fully fund the Disabled Facilities Grant.
In 1996, the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act was passed, part of which allowed every man, woman and child to have their home adapted around their disability if they didn't have the means to do so themselves. This was intended to, and for many people has, put ramps to stepped doorways, made bathrooms easier to use, and generally made an unsuitable house into a safe and user friendly home. Great idea.
It's only a shame nobody did the maths. There are very few houses with basic accessibility features built in, so with 800,000 people acquiring a disability every year, and the ever-ageing population to keep in mind, so we're going to need to budget for a lot of ramps. "But that costs money", say some politicians, and, regrettably, some of the public. "... but it is law, so here's some money." The truth is that it's not enough, it never has been, and they know it. It's like your car breaking down and your mate saying "Don't worry, I'll pay your taxi home", giving you a fiver to get from London to Milton Keynes and then cheerfully walking off. It's just not going to work. What's needed, according to a report by the BRE, is somewhere in the region of £2 billion a year. What's made available is £220 million.
The results of this 19 year blip are difficult to measure at first glance. It cannot be said that local authorities do not carry out adaptations paid for by a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG). Nor can it be said that identified risks are ignored; local authorities have a legal duty of care to their residents. "Identified" is one of the key words in the above sentence. The available money is so low that local authorities find themselves overburdened, and make very little effort to make people aware of the grant. A survey of young people with Muscular Dystrophy carried out in 2012 noted: "almost half say they have not heard of the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG)". Note also that "expedient" is not mentioned. Indeed, some previous studies of the DFG have commented that some applicants have died before having their home adapted.
All this adds up to thousands of people living in houses which aren't right for them, or ending up in thousands of pounds of debt, as uncovered by Muscular Dystrophy UK's Breaking Point report. When you wear shoes that don't fit, you get blisters, maybe even corns. When your house doesn't fit, it can make life difficult in any number of ways. Human nature is to simply manage as best you can, make do and carry on, until a solution presents itself. Yet in some cases, when a solution is does not materialise, business as usual can lead to preventable injuries, loss of opportunities, and the need for more physical assistance with everyday life. This is where saving starts costing.
Leonard Cheshire Disability estimate that inaccessible housing is costing £300 million a year in GP visits alone. Over and above the money, that's a lot of people in a lot of unnecessary pain. When you start trying to add in the costs of preventable hip fractures from falls and all sorts of other factors, the numbers just get scarier.
As I am frequently reminded by anyone trying to dodge a question, everyone with a disability is an individual, and looking at the bigger picture from the perspective of a handful cases simply doesn't work. This is why the savings delivered by a DFG are so difficult to calculate. If only it were possible to carry out a series of experiments in a laboratory, each with a different proportion of the variable in question, and normalise the results to the size of the experiment. Then again, if you think of every local authority in a region as an experiment, and obtain figures for each area, it can be done. Here are my calculations, and my conclusions:
1. Adult Social Care spending appears to be very closely related to the accessibility of houses in an area. An investment in the DFG could pay for itself in Adult Social Care savings alone.
2. There is a greater proportion of people with disabilities in work in an area with more accessible housing. You want to reduce the employment gap Mr Duncan Smith, Mr Tomlinson? Secure investment in the Disabled Facilities Grant.
I obtained my information through a mixture of Freedom of Information requests and good old fashioned asking nicely. I'll ask nicely again. Fully fund the Disabled Facilities Grant. Please?
Living in an inaccessible home? Read more about the DFG and share your experiences below.