I thank the committee for inviting myself and officials from my Department and the Housing Agency here to discuss the very important subject of housing for people with disabilities. I am joined today by Paul Benson, principal officer in my Department, and by representatives of the Housing Agency, John O’Connor, chief executive officer, and Claire Feeney, senior executive officer.
I will make a brief opening statement and we then look forward to answering questions from the committee. We also welcome the insights of the committee into these important matters. This is a very timely meeting as we embark on a new overarching housing strategy, Housing for All, and a review of the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016.
Housing is a top priority for this Government and the approach set out in the Housing for All strategy and the programme for Government is clear. The Government is working towards a housing system that caters for all our people. In this regard, the programme includes a commitment to ensure that an appropriate mix of housing design types is provided for older people and people with disabilities, which is obviously very important.
Since taking office, the ministerial team in the Department has set about this work with our officials, other Departments, local authorities, delivery partners and key stakeholders. My Department has also been reorganised with a new division established at the start of the year which focuses on housing inclusion, homelessness and affordability.
The record €3.3 billion housing budget for 2021 is a clear signal of the Government’s intent to deliver on the programme for Government, and it is only the very beginning. This investment will provide further impetus to important schemes targeted at housing for persons with a disability such as capital funding for social housing to local authorities, funding to approved housing bodies including funding through the capital assistance scheme, and the housing adaptation and disabled persons grant schemes.
Three major strategies were published in 2011: the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016, the national implementation framework for the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016, and Time to Move on from Congregated Settings – A Strategy for Community Inclusion. In conjunction with the Department of Health, the HSE and other stakeholders, my Department has been working hard to implement these strategies.
The vision of the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011-2016 is “To facilitate access, for people with disabilities, to the appropriate range of housing and related support services, delivered in an integrated and sustainable manner, which promotes equality of opportunity, individual choice and independent living.” The strategy uses the term “disability” in reference to four categories of disability aligned with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD: sensory disability, mental health disability, physical disability and intellectual disability.
The strategy is a joint initiative with the Department of Health and its aims are aligned with the UN convention. A key output of the strategy has been the establishment of a housing and disability steering group in each local authority and preparation of a strategic plan for the delivery of housing for people with a disability in every single local authority area. This is supported by a national housing sub-group made up of representatives of my Department, the Department of Health, the HSE, the National Disability Authority, NDA, and other stakeholder organisations. This group meets regularly to co-ordinate relevant actions on a national basis with executive support from the Housing Agency.
The overall national housing output requirement in the coming years coming years is estimated at 33,000 new homes per annum, including social, affordable and private homes. All delivery channels and mechanisms will be needed to achieve these targets. We are planning for delivery of these homes in the new housing strategy - Housing for All - and the needs of people with a disability will be factored into this process at national and local level.
With regard to social housing, the programme for Government commits to increasing the social housing stock by 50,000 units over the next five years, most of which will comprise new builds. The level of allocations for social housing to people with disabilities has increased significantly over the past ten years, with more than 10% of all allocations being made to people with disabilities.
The work on the strategy will also include an examination of adaptation, conversion and refurbishment programmes and grants for existing stock. For example, the housing adaptation grants schemes have assisted 115,000 households to stay living in their homes since 2008. This is very much in keeping with the objectives of the UNCRPD.
Regarding the building regulations, part M, access and use of the building regulations aims, to foster an inclusive approach to the design and construction of the built environment. While the part M requirements may be regarded as a statutory minimum level of provision, the accompanying technical guidance encourages building owners and designers to have regard to the design philosophy of universal design and to consider making additional provisions, where practicable and appropriate.
As members will note, there is clear alignment between the objectives and approach of housing policy for people with a disability and the UNCRPD. This can be bolstered further as we develop the two housing strategies mentioned. I have outlined in appendix 5 key achievements in this area to date. We can provide the committee with more detailed briefing on areas they may find of interest following today’s session. We look forward to the discussion.