by Kevin Chase, SCSN National Development Officer and Home Safety Scotland Forum Convener

So, it has finally arrived.  The Scottish Government has announced the consultation for home adaptations and home use, or to give the consultation the full title, “Enhancing the Accessibility, Adaptability and Usability of Scotland’s Homes”.  You may know the consultation by another title, “Housing for Varying Needs”.  This Consultation is extremely important. It affects where and how we live, and the quality of life we want or can have.  The consultation has also been released with the Scottish Government’s ambitious ‘Housing to 2040’ commitment, to improve the country’s housing stock. 

So why is this consultation so important?  There are several reasons.  Scotland needs housing stock that considers an ageing population.  The Making Adaptations Work Report quoted an Age Scotland Survey in 2022, revealing that over 30% (of older adults) needed adaptations within their home now, 55% did not believe their home would be suitable in 5 years’ time, and this increased to over 75% who believed their home would not be suitable in 10 years’ time.  These figures are startling and highlight the issue of inadequate, unsafe housing stock. This is especially poignant when you consider the Scottish Government’s 2040 ambitious building program has already started. 

So, what happens when part of the home is no longer is accessible for its occupants?  Well, the part of a property not used by the occupant creates several risks, most notably from fire, whether from an ignition source that is undetected, or obstructing safe route out of a property.  The positive impact – if homes were adapted to ensure people regardless of mobility could escape a property safely – would be significant. 

Another point that does not relate to ageing but relates to mobility:  like most people, I have been deeply moved by the impact that Motor Neurone Disease (MND) can have on people.  I am a passionate Rugby League fan and the impact this illness has had on Rob Burrow and his family, as it did with Doddie Weir in Rugby Union, has captured the hearts of many.  MND Scotland held a reception in Scottish Parliament in March 2023 and promoted their own report, published in March 2022, “No Time to Lose, Addressing the Housing Needs of People with MND”.  They report that the average life expectancy from diagnosis is 18 months (p. i) and given the speed that the disease can take away mobility, it can tragically lead to death prior to home installations taking place.  One respondent within the report stated, “my husband passed away nine and a half months from diagnosis, the ramp wasn’t even begun.” (p. i).  If people with this awful disease cannot live within their own home with dignity, because of the delays of installing essential needs, surely something is wrong with the process?  Please do read their report, it is heartbreaking.   

My third point would focus on the alternatives.  Why can’t people move to alternative properties that would suit their needs better?  This point gets to the heart of the problem of making houses adaptable, for all people, at any stage of life.  Age Scotland in their National Housing Survey Report 2020 reported, almost half (46%) said they would prefer to adapt an unsuitable home rather than move (36%).  Around one in four (23%) said they were reluctant to leave their home, while one in nine (11%) said there was nowhere suitable to move to.   

The simple fact is that there are not enough adaptable houses. Homes For Scotland report an estimated 100,000 homes shortfall in the Scottish Economy.  The picture is worse for people with disabilities.  The Chartered Institute Of Housing reported in 2019 house building statistics in Scotland.  Just over 1% of new homes built were accessible.  In 2019 a total 22,368 new homes were built in Scotland. If just 1% were accessible, that only added 237 homes to the accessible housing stock.  With the number of wheelchair users waiting for adaptable homes, it will take approximately 70 years to meet demand for adaptable houses.   All this information and the delays to making homes more adaptable for life changing illnesses highlights the need for housing stock to be adaptable to meet needs for debilitating illnesses and later life.   

My final point focuses on mental health, specifically two areas:  First, moving home – especially for older adults because of failing health – can also have an impact on isolation.  One of the reasons for not moving home is that they already have an established social and support network of friends, and are familiar with where amenities are, so there is a reluctance to move away from home.  Second, there is some fantastic research by Stirling University in relation to dementia and ageing.  Their research is enabling people with dementia to live independently for longer, disproving the need to provide immediate care for dementia sufferers, by simply altering and adapting their homes.  Their groundbreaking research is lauded throughout the UK and further afield. 

So, taking all this into account, isn’t in time to ensure our new homes are adaptable to meet our growing, ageing needs?  And isn’t it a fundamental right for people suffering from a life changing and limiting illness to be able to spend their last days where they feel most comfortable, and not suffer further loss of dignity, as their homes are not adapted sufficiently to accommodate their mobility?  If we are enabled to live independently for longer with illnesses like dementia, should we not build homes to meet these needs, especially with Scotland’s accelerating, ageing population?  Should we not enable a wheelchair user the right to live independently within an adaptable home, rather than force them to overcome the debilitating structures within their own home? 

The consultation closes on Thursday 19th October the link is here