11th August 2016
The government could have saved nearly £48 billion in social care costs over five years if it had funded all the work needed to make disabled people’s homes more accessible, according to a new user-led campaigning website.
The calculations have been made by Fleur Perry, editor of Disability United, a website that aims to campaign on key issues affecting disabled people, such as housing, social care, jobs and transport.
Perry made the calculations after finding a reference to research carried out by Isle of Wight Council (see pages 16-18).
The council concluded that for every £1 invested in the disabled facilities grants (DFG) scheme, a council could save more than £7 in social care costs over the next five years.
Perry then found Department for Communities and Local Government research from 2011, which concluded that “the total amount required to cover [DFG] grants for all of those who are theoretically eligible under the current rules” in England was £1.9 billion.
Over the last five years, annual spending by central government on DFGs has ranged from just £180,000 to £220,000.
Fleur made her calculations by adding up the annual excess demand for DFGs from disabled people and multiplying that by the potential savings that could have been made if that work had been funded.
She points out that these are rough calculations and do not take account of a range of other factors, such as rising prices, an ageing population, and top-up DFG funding provided by many local councils.
But she suggests that the estimated cost savings could be even higher than £48 billion because her figures only examine social care costs, and do not include NHS spending caused by preventable falls or other accidents in inaccessible homes, the impact on other services, or the long-term, knock-on effects on the health and wellbeing of disabled people and carers.
Disability United has now launched a petition on the UK parliament website, calling on the government to fund fully all of the annual need for DFGs and “make sure that every disabled person eligible for a Disabled Facilities Grant will get the support they need to make their home safe and suitable”.
Perry said the figures show that the underfunding of DFGs is “completely illogical, and needs to change”.
The government confirmed a significant increase in DFG funding at last November’s spending review, announcing that it would spend more than £500 million a year by 2019-20, funding around 85,000 home adaptations that year.
This year (2016-17), the grant increased to £394 million, a 79 per cent rise on 2015-16.
Perry welcomed the eventual increase to £500 million, but she added: “Given there are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK and a very limited accessible housing stock… 85,000 doesn’t sound like all that many.”
A DCLG spokeswoman said: “Since 2010 we have invested more than a billion pounds into the disabled facilities grant, providing around 250,000 adaptations to help older and disabled people live independently and safely in their own homes for as a long as possible.
“This year alone the disabled facilities grant has increased by 79 per cent, and will rise every year to more than £500 million by 2020.”
DCLG refused to say whether it agreed with the Isle of Wight Council figures, and whether it would therefore reconsider its DFG funding.
Isle of Wight Council was unable to comment because of “officer unavailability”.
Perry said the Disability United website would feature “real people’s stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the worlds of social care, housing, employment, transportation and all the other essentials disabled people rely on”.
She said: “We’ll be picking out key themes from these stories, and doing our utmost to speak to decision-makers and push for progress in these areas with a mixture of examples, statistics and expert analysis.”
She added: “We hear stories day after day of people’s care packages being cut below safe levels, extraordinarily long waiting-lists for essential equipment, the same paperwork battles being replayed again and again across the country, and when things go wrong lessons are not always being learned.
“Though much of this is driven by cost-cutting efforts, the effects on the people who rely upon these essentials can be indefensible, and evidence shows that when funding does not meet needs, costs can be dramatically increased in other areas.
“It makes no sense and changes need to be made.
“Disability United will be a place for everyone to share what the problems are, why they’re happening, and how they can be fixed.
“If someone has a great experience we want to share that, and if someone has a terrible experience we want to share that too, so we can look at why these experiences are so different and what can be done to change that.”