Charities the Spinal Injuries Association and Aspire are calling on the government to think again after it quietly dropped a commitment to increase the amount of money that chronically ill and disabled people in England can claim to adapt their homes via a little-known grant – the Disabled Facilities Grant – that crucially doesn’t affect people’s benefits.
Disabled Facilities Grant: a stealth real-terms cut on top of benefits
The Disabled Facilities Grant is used to fund alterations aimed at easing living at home, such as installing wet-rooms or stairlifts. The maximum amount a person is entitled to claim has been capped at £30,000 since 2008.
An external review commissioned by the government in 2018 recommended that the upper limit of the Disabled Facilities Grant should rise in line with inflation, with further allowances made for more expensive areas. A commitment to increase this figure has been shelved despite this £30,000 sum now being worth around a third less due to inflation and increased building costs.
According to charities, the consequences of living in accommodation that is not suitably adapted to your needs can be devastating. Crucially, the grant does not affect people’s benefits entitlements.
Kenny Hughes, who has been supported by Spinal Injuries Association, sustained a spinal cord injury 18 months ago and is paralysed from the waist down. The father from Rochdale is currently living in a ground floor flat which is totally unsuitable for his needs. It means everyday tasks like washing himself can be difficult and dangerous.
Maybe once every three weeks I will have a shower. Then I just use wipes in bed, clean myself off using wipes. I don’t have carers and I can’t afford to pay for carers, so I just have one every now and again.
It is too dangerous, I can fall and my feet get tangled up behind the sink, in between the feet of the chair, and it takes the scabs that I’ve got on my ankles, which are pressure sores, and it rips them off. They are dressed by a district nurse twice a week but they’re not getting better because of where I am living.
The benefits of these grants
Charities say these grants are meant to help prevent these situations, to give people the chance to live independently and get on with their lives – even if they claim benefits.
Laura Hagan, Housing Manager at Aspire explains how making do in a property that hasn’t been adapted to meet your needs is degrading:
Aspire’s research shows that such situations rob people of their independence, significantly reducing their chances of getting work, and affecting both their physical and mental health. The long-term impact is immense, on the individual and on their family.
All too often the funding available is too small to make the changes that are needed, leaving people in limbo; many of the people Aspire works with are unable to access their bathroom, their kitchen, or even to actually leave the house. That the already insufficient grants are being eroded over time, making them even less fit for purpose, is a disgrace.
The government says…
A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said:
Our programme of social care transformation is working to ensure that people can access the right care, in the right place, at the right time and we are focused on the priorities in our ambitious 10-year reform programme.
The Disabled Facilities Grant helps around 50,000 people each year to adapt their homes to help them live more independently.
Last March we announced an additional £100m over two years for the Disabled Facilities Grant, on top of the more than £500m already available annually for grants – so that more people can benefit.
However, Dharshana Sridhar, campaigns manager at Spinal Injuries Association, believes this is having a knock-on effect, making the crisis in social housing worse as people are forced to sell their homes if they cannot afford to adapt them:
The amount being capped at £30,000 since 2008, despite rising costs and inflation, has already forced many disabled people to sell their homes and go on the social housing register, where there is already a lack of accessible homes for disabled people.
It is imperative the government addresses this urgently and updates the means testing, or we will see many more forced to sell their homes. Many people with disabilities are currently on long waiting lists for suitable housing and feel trapped with nowhere suitable to live.
“It’s like we don’t matter anymore”
Kenny summed the situation up:
It’s like we don’t matter anymore, I’m just shocked. With inflation everything should be going up and now the cost of building work is huge compared to even three years ago. Everyone’s wages are going up but I am stuck in this property now as if I don’t matter.
It’s really important to stay in your own home if you can, the upheaval you have to go through following a spinal cord injury and then on top of that coming back to a strange place that isn’t your home is devastating when you feel you have lost so much already.
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