Housing as a human right for people with learning disabilities

On Scottish Housing Day, Lorne Berkley of the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability blogs about the housing landscape for people with learning disabilities.

A generation of people with learning disabilities have grown up since Scotland’s largest long-stay hospital finally closed its doors in 2002. Lennox Castle Hospital, on the outskirts of Glasgow, housed almost 1700 people with learning disabilities at its peak in the 1970s.  It was one of many such institutions across Scotland.  This policy of institutionalisation marginalised people with learning disabilities, isolated them from wider society and made them vulnerable to abuse.

The last 20 years has seen transformational change for people with learning disabilities. Today, the majority of people with learning disabilities live in the community and aspire to lead full and active lives.  And young people with learning disabilities have vastly different expectations than they did just a generation ago.  This represents huge progress; but real challenges remain.  Many people with learning disabilities face barriers to full inclusion within the community and wider areas of civic life.  For some, the stigma, exclusion and marginalisation which stemmed from institutionalisation has persisted.

It is also evident that a number of people with learning disabilities in Scotland, often those with the most complex needs, continue to live in healthcare settings.  The Scottish Government’s ‘Coming Home’ report highlighted that hundreds of people with learning disabilities and complex needs are ‘living in hospital or care settings far from home and not through choice’.  This is at odds with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which enshrines the “equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others”.

A human rights approach is vital to ensure people with learning disabilities are able to exercise maximum choice and control over where they live, and access and receive the appropriate support and care to live a full and active life in the community. Empowering people to know and claim their rights, and increasing the accountability of organisations who have responsibility to fulfil these rights, is essential to ensuring people with learning disabilities can exercise true choice over where and how they live.

SCLD is committed to working with people with learning disabilities, their organisations and all of our partners and stakeholders, to ensure that people with learning disabilities’ right to independent living and other human rights are upheld, and that individuals are empowered to live their best lives in a home of their choosing.