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Getting the rights right in housing

Posted: 16/04/19, Author: Paul Marshall

Our recent Housing Round Table in Newcastle discussing people’s equal rights to live independently in communities brought together a great range of voices of those living in supported housing as well as those providing and regulating it.

Getting the rights right in housing

With presentations from Chris Hatton of Lancaster University and Sanchita Hosali from the British Institute of Human Rights, we structured the day around Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People. This is a pretty long name for what really is a simple concept that all of us would agree with – the equal right to live independently and be included in the community, with the freedom to choose and control your life.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Fantastic progress has been made over the years around both the design of supported and sheltered housing, together with significant improvements in the support that people can get. However, great design doesn’t mean you can be part of a community or live independently; having great support doesn’t mean that you’ve got a great home that works for you.  It does feel very much that we are still looking at homes, support and people as separate things, without really joining up all three as a route to providing the best possible opportunity and quality of life.

From a supported housing perspective, as much as we know there are some truly excellent communities that include people and enable them to enjoy a full and active role, our concern is that we hear time and time again, that for some, their basic human rights are being challenged – that they are living in what can only be described as institutions – where they are isolated, have little or no choice and control over their lives. That’s not just about housing for those with disabilities, it’s also true of some of our other supported, extra care and sheltered housing, where people are moving not always through choice, but because it’s all that is available for them.

Going back to our starting point, if we are to get this right, perhaps design or support is wrong - we need to begin with the key questions that come out of Article 19; do people have the opportunity to live independently, the opportunity to be included in the community, the freedom to choose and control their lives? In most cases, some of this is easier to answer - should you want them, then it’s unlikely that you’ll have access to community, services and opportunities if you’re living in a congregational setting 10 miles away from the nearest shop, your GP and leisure opportunity.

However, others are more difficult.  It’s a lot more complex asking someone whether they feel they’re living in a nice place. This requires genuine in-depth listening and understanding - genuine coproduction

So, it has to go beyond aesthetics and what support people are getting. Article 19 already gives us a core framework to assess the housing of people. It also gives us something more, a core starting point when developers, architects, commissioners and providers are thinking about new provision. Equally, perhaps it provides a new strand for regulation and a framework for ensuring that people’s human rights are upheld. We should get the rights right at the heart of the design of homes, support and services and couple this with genuine coproduction.

It does of course leave the question what next? We - and from what we heard in Newcastle – others, believe that something needs to change and the opportunity and desire to get homes right already exists. The feedback from the roundtable will help us shape what happens next.

However, in the meantime we want to have a conversation with developers, housing associations and providers that want to get this right - so this is a call to them, if you truly believe that people, regardless of disability or age have the equal right to live independently and be included in the community, with the freedom to choose and control your life get in touch.

Paul Marshall is the Chief Executive at the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi)

NDTi is an organisation that promotes equal and inclusive lives for people in their communities, particularly where ageing or disability are issues

Paul Marshall's blog is a personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the NDTi.