A veteran campaigner for people with learning disabilities is warning that planned changes to supported housing in Lancashire risk increasing isolation.
Lancashire County Council has just completed a consultation on a new strategy which proposes a shift away from shared accommodation in favour of collections of individual flats, providing each person with their own self-contained space and front door.
Support for day-to-day living, tailored to an individual’s needs, would continue to be offered in much the same way as it is now.
But Rosemary Trustam from the Preston Learning Disability Forum (PLDF) says that there could be unintended consequences of any change – particularly if the proposed apartment schemes are oversized.
“If you put, say, 12 flats into an area and then factor in all the support staff who will be needed, that is going to look like a segregated facility. You are, unintentionally perhaps, separating people from the community which they are more a part of in smaller-scale shared accommodation.
“When a couple of people share a house which has the same appearance as all the others in an area, they are living their lives in amongst their neighbours.
“But neighbours are not going to pop in to places which look to be off limits in some way, whether that perception is correct or not,” says Ms. Trustam, who was involved in resettling people from the former Royal Albert Hospital in Lancaster during the early 1980s – many of whom came to the Deepdale and Plungington areas of Preston.
The county council says there is currently an over-reliance on shared supported housing, with more than 700 such properties across the county accommodating 1,500 people – at an annual cost of £73m. County Hall’s new supported housing strategy states that apartment schemes offer greater choice and privacy for people with learning difficulties.
While Ms Trustam has been reassured by pledges given by the authority at PLDF events that nobody in shared accommodation would be forced to move, she says that the decisions must be driven by an individual’s needs – and not the cost of caring for them.
“It’s important the way in which choices are presented to people with learning disabilities,” she said.
“You could tell them about all the benefits of having their own flat, but they may not appreciate that the move means leaving behind their neighbours or the shopkeeper who they have struck up a friendship with.”
Responding to the concerns, County Coun Graham Gooch, cabinet member for adult services, said: “I can assure everyone that the county council will remain fully committed to providing the best care for each person, depending on their own specific needs.
“Ensuring people can live independently, stay connected to their community and have a choice about their care and accommodation are crucial considerations.
“That’s why having a clear Supported Housing Strategy is so important. It will ensure we have a whole range of supported housing options that we can afford to fund, not just for the here and now, but crucially to meet the needs of people over the next five to 10 years and beyond.
“Apartment accommodation schemes are one type of housing we’re looking to develop. Demand for this type of housing is increasing and many people prefer to have their own flat as part of a scheme where they also get support as part of a community.
“These developments will never fully replace other housing options such as sharing accommodation with friends, which many people may prefer. However, they are a vital development so we can ensure there are good and affordable services available.”
As part of the new supported housing strategy, the county council is also looking to find alternatives to residential care homes for young adults with learning disabilities. Such accommodation can lead to “a home for life, institutionalisation and create dependency unnecessarily” the document notes.
In March 2019, the authority was housing almost 250 people with learning disabilities or autism in care homes on a long-term basis.