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Tuesday, 27 July, 1999, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Disabled 'denied housing choice'
People with learning difficulties may have little say in where they live
Many local authorities are not giving people with learning difficulties a range of choice over where they can live, according to government-commissioned research.

A major report by the Hester Adrian Research Centre into four models of residential provision for people with learning difficulties shows several authorities are ignoring government guidance that they allocate housing according to need and clients' wishes.

Only 6% of clients interviewed were considered to have any control over where they lived.

The report also backs the continuing closure of hospitals and their replacement by small community-based housing schemes, although it says no one type of housing surveyed came out on top.

It looked at large-scale developments such as village communities and NHS residential campuses as well as group homes and supported living schemes.

Less choice

It found that NHS residential campuses, developed after the closure of NHS hospitals, delivered poorer quality services than smaller, more dispersed housing schemes, despite being cheaper to run.

They were associated with restricted choice, greater use of drugs, fewer staff and increased institutionalisation.

However, the report said they were also more likely to be used by people who had less severe learning difficulties than those in sheltered housing.

Other schemes had both drawbacks and benefits.

Village communities, which are still rare, offered better access to health care and routine day activities, whereas group homes and supporting living schemes were linked with greater social integration and homeliness.

Supported housing also rated high for greater choice and participation in community-based activities, but was the most costly form of housing due mainly to increased staff costs.

Group homes, on the other hand, had better access to more formalised day activities.

Careful assessment

Health minister John Hutton said the research showed the need for local authorities to ensure people with learning difficulties were carefully assessed to ensure they received the most appropriate form of residential placement for them.

He stated: "Authorities should respect the right of individuals to make informed choices about where they live...wherever their preferred choice can meet their assessed needs and is affordable."

The report says acccommodation costs should be balanced against benefits such as more active social lives, rates of obesity and social integration.

It says the difference when costs are adjusted in this way are "not statistically different".

The report found that just 17% of clients interviewed did enough exercise to keep healthy.

Some 24% of women were obese, compared with a national average of 16%.

Mr Hutton said the Social Services Inspectorate would check to see government guidance over choice in placements was enforced.

Mencap, which campaigns for Britain's 1.2 million people with learning difficulties, welcomed the research, but said that, in order to allow people more choice in placements, extra funding was needed.

Special adviser Brian McGinnis said staff had to be properly trained and there had to be proper monitoring of the effects of a particular residential placement on an individual's life.

"We believe this piece of research is very valuable," said Mr McGinnis.

"However, there are no extra funds available to improve the current situation so will this report actually lead to more homes and better lives for people with a learning disability?"

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