Housing is high on the list of issues that impact on the health, wellbeing and inclusion of people with a learning disability. There are many barriers to getting the right home – but there are solutions too.
"Getting the right outcome from the housing system can be a daunting and emotional journey," says Mark McGoogan. As Mencap's recently-appointed housing lead, Mark is well placed to judge.
Previously head of development at Golden Lane Housing (GLH), Mark believes that people with a learning disability face major barriers, particularly when attempting to get the housing they need. He is adamant that solutions can be found for individuals, but says that the right support and information can be hard to come by.
Last year Mencap began its effectiveness programme to establish key issues to focus on. Following consultations with family carers and people with a learning disability, health and housing were identified as the most important areas. For people with a learning disability, moving out of the family home can be difficult.
The theory is that the person sees their social worker, who refers them to the housing department, which analyses their needs and finds them a place in social housing. "What actually happens is, there are 1.7 million households – or 4 million people – in the queue for social housing," says McGoogan. "Each year between 200,000 and 300,000 properties are let, but another 300,000 people join the queue."
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the number of council houses and housing association properties has decreased by 300,000 in the last ten years. "A lot of that is because of Right to Buy [tenants given the right to buy their council houses]," says McGoogan. "But it's also because areas need redevelopment and old blocks of flats are knocked down and replaced with a lower density of housing."
The result is that only those with the highest needs are offered housing – often this means those who are registered homeless or have children. Someone with a moderate learning disability who lives with his or her parents may remain in the queue indefinitely. And if and when they are offered a council flat, they are often less likely to be given a choice about where to live – because they are seen as less of a priority.
This can mean that people with a learning disability are often allocated a home in a less desirable area. "And it's in these sort of environments that some of the high-profile hate murders have happened," says McGoogan.
The private rental market is less crowded than the council housing sector. "The upside is that it's very dynamic and will deliver much more quickly than local authorities," says Ben Harrison, housing manager and head of personalisation for support charity United Response.
However, there are downsides, including a lack of security of tenure. "I admit it's a generalisation, but people with a learning disability often want long-term housing solutions offering security and routine." Another problem is rent. "This is usually higher in the private sector," explains Harrison. "Because a lot of people are on benefits, they can't afford to live where they need to."