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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 30 May 2018

Agenda: Business Motion, Islands (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Islands (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Decision Time, People with Learning Disabilities (Housing)


Contents


People with Learning Disabilities (Housing)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11737, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on appropriate housing for people with learning disabilities. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the importance of where a person with a learning disability lives to his or her quality of life; welcomes the reported reduction in recent years in the number of people in hospitals or other NHS settings when there is no clinical need for them to be there and the shift away since 2000 from using residential care homes toward a greater use of supported accommodation; recognises the continuing challenges of ensuring the availability of appropriate housing, the accessibility of tenancy agreements and balancing sustainable care provision with people’s housing preferences, and notes the view that the Scottish Government, local authorities and relevant partners should work together to ensure that every person in the South Scotland region and across the country who has a learning disability can access the appropriate housing and support that is required to give that person the choice and control to live the life that he or she wants.

17:49  

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

Presiding Officer,

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Those words by Maya Angelou are particularly appropriate for today’s debate. Four walls and a roof make a house, but many people with learning disabilities ache for a home.

I am grateful to the cross-party group on learning disability, whose members asked for this motion and shared their experiences and opinions on the subject. I also thank Enable Scotland for its briefing today.

In 2017, the Scottish Government commissioned the wide-ranging report “Improving outcomes for people with learning disabilities: opportunities and challenges for housing” from the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability. The report offers very clear routes forward, and the purpose of today’s debate is to ensure that those routes are followed.

First, let us talk about progress. Fewer people with learning disabilities are now forced to live in hospitals or institutional care when they have no clinical need to be there—it is fewer people but not none. There are examples of excellent practice and stories of people whose lives have been transformed by having appropriate homes. Their movement out of institutions and into the community in the past 20 years is a mark of our society’s progress towards equality and inclusivity.

However, the report found that good practice varies significantly across local authorities. Overall, the report found a lack of suitable homes for people with learning disabilities. There is also a lack of clear guidance for people with such disabilities who are looking for homes. Restrictions on housing and disability benefits that have been imposed by the United Kingdom Government are making things much worse. In some places, too many individuals live in inappropriate residential care. There were reports of local authorities suggesting that people who currently live independently move to care homes for cost reasons, which I think we can all agree is completely unacceptable. In 2017, 698 households that were homeless or threatened with homelessness had “learning disability” recorded as a support need.

As I have said, the overall direction of travel is positive. In 1998, only 600 people with learning disabilities lived in supported accommodation. That figure rose to 4,622 in 2015, and more people now live in mainstream housing with support. However, 23,186 adults with learning disabilities are known to local authorities across Scotland. Some do not require or want housing support—but others do, and we need a better understanding of their needs. One in three adults with learning disabilities lives with their parents or family carers. If that is their choice, that is good. However, families understand the need to plan for a time in the future when parents can no longer care. Often, the options—if they are offered at all—are unsuitable.

There is a wide spectrum of need among people with learning disabilities. Some individuals require 24-hour care and others far less, but most will require adapted accommodation. We know from the Government’s groundbreaking research entitled “The keys to life” that people with learning disabilities are more likely to suffer from physical ill health. The report recommends that ground-floor accommodation be offered. People First (Scotland), which is an organisation that is led by people with learning disabilities, has told us that they often want to live close to their families and friends. Social isolation and bullying can be a serious problem for people with such disabilities, but local authorities often offer them accommodation in areas in which crime rates are high, which leaves them vulnerable. James McNab of People First (Scotland) told the cross-party group that housing application forms are often too complicated, so support in completing them should be offered. Mr McNab also said that people with learning disabilities in shared tenancies often had little say in who their flatmates were, which was a lack of choice that was also highlighted in the SCLD’s report.

The report found a growth in what is called a core-and-cluster model of supported housing, in which people live in their own homes around a hub of support, usually with some communal space. I know from personal experience that such a model can be very successful, as it provides independence while also tackling social isolation. In my view, provided that developments remain small, with high-quality person-centred support packages, any concerns that the model risks being institutional will be unfounded. However, it should not be forced on tenants who are currently happy to live in their own tenancies with support.

The SCLD report recommends starting a national conversation on how to achieve better housing outcomes for people with a learning disability. I hope that this debate contributes to that conversation.

The report recommends ways to improve data, particularly at local level, which is a big challenge that we need to address. It also asks the Government to develop an implementation framework to prevent people with learning disabilities from being accommodated in healthcare settings unnecessarily.

The report recommends that there be more specific guidance to ensure that local housing strategies more effectively address the needs of people with learning disabilities. It also asks for greater consideration of “The keys to life” outcomes within strategic planning and commissioning processes.

On a pleasingly practical level, the report calls for joint protocols between local authorities and other registered social landlords, again to achieve positive housing outcomes for people with learning disabilities.

It is a great start that the recommendations come from a Government-commissioned report; so, too, is the housing minister’s letter to the cross-party group on learning disability in which he says that his officials are working to strengthen links between the housing sector and organisations representing people with learning disabilities, their families and carers. We must monitor that work. I welcome Mr Stewart’s instruction that councils’ local housing strategies must set out their priorities and plans for meeting the needs of people with a learning disability. I understand that the Scottish Government’s guidance for councils on local housing strategies is under review, which offers a tremendous opportunity to put into practice the report’s recommendations. Sometimes, local authorities need clear direction to ensure that the priorities set by Government and endorsed by the Parliament are adhered to.

I look forward to hearing more from the minister on the plans to ensure that people with learning disabilities no longer ache for a place to call home.

17:56  

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I thank Joan McAlpine for securing this debate on an important topic. Things have moved on pleasingly well in Scotland since the 1970s, the 1980s and even into the 1990s, when too many people were left in hospitals or institutions that were totally unsuited to meeting their needs or the needs of their families.

Last night, I was talking to some friends about how the mindset remains that people with learning difficulties need to live with family or with care. I was interested to note that 65 per cent of people with learning disability live alone in appropriate housing. We can be proud of giving people that choice.

I will make a couple of points in the short time that I have. The people to whom I have spoken are concerned that practices differ among local authorities across Scotland. People will know from yesterday’s debate on planning that I do not favour centralisation, but we must make sure that learning disability services are not postcode led and that the service that people get in one local authority area is the service that people get in another. The Scottish Government has, at least, a role to play in encouraging, monitoring and pushing local authorities to make sure that the policies that we have that are applied in some parts of Scotland are applied in them all.

I do not want to return to yesterday afternoon’s debate, but I again push the minister on the need to have appropriate housing built for people with disabilities. People with learning difficulties will in certain circumstances require adaptations that will be different from mainstream housing, and it is often expensive for a local authority or housing association to make such alterations at a later stage.

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

I have said before in the chamber, and I reiterate—without opening up the can of worms that is subsidy as a whole—that there will be additional subsidy available for such housing for folk with learning disabilities and physical disabilities, if councils talk to my officials. I hope that every member in the chamber will reiterate that to their local authority when they discuss such matters.

Jeremy Balfour

I am very grateful to the minister for those remarks, but I still think that, as a Parliament, we can look at the issue as part of our consideration of the Planning (Scotland) Bill at stages 2 and 3.

Although it is great that many people who have a disability can live alone, there is a danger of loneliness. We cannot look at housing without looking at other issues. In parts of my area, people face transport problems because of lack of buses or because of where their housing has been built. We must make sure that people with learning difficulties have the same opportunities as we do—which we take for granted—to take part in leisure activities, and the same access to job opportunities and volunteering that we have.

As I said at the outset, a lot of progress has been made over the past 20 years. There is still a way to go, but I hope and sense that there is cross-party support for progress on what is not a political issue, but one on which we can work together to help the people in our society who might need a little extra help.

18:01  

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing a very significant issue to the chamber for debate. I apologise for not being able to stay for the whole debate, but I wanted to take part in it.

Having a decent warm home that suits one’s needs is a human right, as is having the ability to live the best possible quality of life. Society must and should give support to all those who need it. Scotland’s 120,000 people with learning disabilities must have the support that they need to live in a home of their choice, and to live the best quality of life that they can live, as Joan McAlpine said.

According to Enable Scotland, most people who have a learning disability do not get any form of social care support. As Jeremy Balfour pointed out, it is a very long time since we first decided to make the shift from residential care to helping people to live in the community in supported accommodation. I, too, remember Lennox castle in Glasgow: children who were born in that institution are now part of the community. We are talking about a highly significant policy, and we must finish what we started.

People with learning difficulties are much more likely to live in social housing—52 per cent of people with learning difficulties do so, compared with 21 per cent of the general population—and they are much less likely to own their own homes. In 2016-17, 698 people who presented as homeless were recorded as having a learning disability. In recent years, there has been an upward trend in the proportion of homelessness applicants who are assessed as having support needs. I am told that attitudes to people with learning difficulties among social workers and landlords need to be improved. Long delays and provision of inappropriate accommodation are among the key factors that we must address.

There are mixed views on whether progress continues to be made on positive housing outcomes for people with learning disabilities, or has halted. In 2017, the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability reported on some of the key barriers to housing for such people, including the current short supply of housing and the lack of accessible accommodation. I welcome what the minister said to Jeremy Balfour in that regard.

The SCLD also highlighted a lack of consistency in access to advice about housing options, and major challenges with regard to funding of housing support, which are impacting on the ability of providers to deliver effective person-centred support to people with learning disabilities. It recommended that the Scottish Government develop an implementation framework to prevent people with learning disabilities from being accommodated in healthcare settings unnecessarily, and to ensure that they receive appropriate advice and support so that they can make informed choices about housing.

In the final minute of my speech, I want to highlight two serious issues on which a response is required. Professionals in local authorities are not always sufficiently aware of adaptations that people with sensory impairments, learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorders might require. One respondent said that they were told that they were not entitled to adaptations to allow them to live in their own home, and wondered whether that would be the case if they had been physically disabled.

There is an emphasis on online applications—that probably applies to almost everything that we discuss in the chamber—and that is an area in which we need to be mindful of people with learning difficulties. It can be much more difficult for them if they need someone to explain things to them or someone to be on hand to check or clarify aspects of the process. Advice, advocacy and guidance are very important—not least in order that people can sustain a housing tenancy and, in many cases, in order to prevent people from falling into arrears, which could lead to eviction.

There is a lot of work to do in this parliamentary session to ensure that everyone has a sustainable home that is appropriate for their needs. I welcome the debate this evening and I hope that in this parliamentary session we can achieve a lot more for people with learning difficulties who need our support in the homes that they want to live in.

18:05  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

I congratulate Joan McAlpine on bringing the debate to the chamber and, from my perspective, on her impeccable timing. The motion before us dropped into my inbox while I was in the throes of dealing with a perplexing situation in my constituency that relates to the motion’s subject matter. Indeed, if memory serves, I was just off the phone to my office manager who I had been ranting to over the issue in question. Therefore, forgive me for seizing the opportunity to raise a quite intolerable situation, which impacts a number of my constituents and their families in the southern part of Angus South.

A report to the Angus integration joint board in May 2016 that concerned learning disability accommodation highlighted that there were no local facilities of that nature in Carnoustie or Monifieth, and that Carnoustie has the highest population of ageing carers for people with a learning disability and/or autism. The report identified demand for a minimum of four core supported housing units in Carnoustie over the following two years to meet local and wider need.

However, here we are, two years on, and no progress has been made. That demand was the third of three accommodation-related priorities that the IJB had identified. The first was addressed, the second is being addressed, but the third has not been addressed. I am advised that the reason is that there is currently no revenue funding source available to meet staffing costs for such a development, which are estimated to be north of £450,000 a year. Until that funding can be found, either from the existing IJB budget or from Angus Council—which I think I am right in saying has the duty to meet that need—no progress will be made on that priority.

But here is the rub. A few short months ago, Angus Council was granted an additional £1.565 million by the Scottish Government for the purposes of health and social care and to help it to reach budgetary settlements with its health and social care partnership. The council passed on just £510,000 of that money and retained the other £1 million plus. It was able to do that because, although it was agreed with the councils what the moneys, which totalled £66 million across Scotland, were for, it was taken on trust that that was where those moneys would go.

In Angus Council, that did not happen. Our health and social care partnership has admitted to me that

“Had the SCP been able to agree a more generous recurring budgetary settlement with Angus Council then this would have assisted overall in its service delivery plan.”

Put simply, had that £1 million made its way to where it should have gone, at the very least the chances of delivering that housing provision would have been enhanced.

Housing provision for people with learning disabilities in south Angus is an issue that I have been involved in for some time. A little over two years ago, I approached Angus Council to highlight the Scottish Government’s recently announced long-term financial planning assumptions around housing supply, and to seek a commitment that an element of the cash would be deployed to meet the identified learning disability need with a purpose-built facility. In responding, the then chief executive revealed that a housing, health and social care strategic planning group had been established and that, through that, the council would identify which development opportunities should include an element of specialist provision. That was an acceptance that, rather than adapting existing stock on a house-by-house basis, a bespoke unit of the type that south Angus parents of adults with learning disabilities had been campaigning for was on the cards. However, here we are in 2018 and nothing is on the horizon.

Angus Council is able, in a build context, to say, “No can do,” because there is insufficient funding available to staff such a unit, when one might contend that that is because the council failed to pass on moneys that were given by the Scottish Government for that kind of purpose. Is it any wonder that SAPALD and I, as the constituency MSP, are exasperated by the situation?

That exasperation is made all the greater by the fact that the Minister for Local Government and Housing announced recently that, over the next three years, Angus Council will receive in excess of £25 million to support housing supply. The Scottish Government is passing over additional pots of money to the local authority to meet housing need across the county and to meet health and social care demand, yet an identified priority for housing and supporting adults with learning disabilities remains unmet.

I pay tribute to SAPALD for its campaigning work on this issue and its willingness to try to find solutions. It has sought to move things on by sourcing funding to meet staffing costs itself. However, of course, every potential funder that it has approached has come back with the same answer: “Sorry, but we don’t fund statutory services.” That means that we remain in this impasse. I question where that sits in terms of disability discrimination and the human rights of those concerned. What is beyond question is that this situation is wholly unacceptable. I am grateful to Joan McAlpine for providing an opportunity to highlight it in Parliament.

I will conclude by quoting from Joan McAlpine’s motion. It says:

“the Scottish Government, local authorities and relevant partners should work together to ensure that every person ... across the country who has a learning disability can access the appropriate housing and support that is required to give that person the choice and control to live the life that he or she wants.”

The Scottish Government has provided the means to give my constituents in Angus South that choice, and the minister has tonight indicated that additional sums might be available. Those constituents and their families are asking why, in that case, Angus Council has failed to meet their needs.

18:11  

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I, too, congratulate Joan McAlpine on securing the debate and on the content of her speech. She and I are core members of the cross-party group on learning disability, and I know that the other members are excited that this subject is being discussed. I also welcome the focus that has been brought to this issue by Enable Scotland through its report on where people live, and by the SCLD’s report earlier this year, “Improving outcomes for people with learning disabilities: Opportunities and challenges for housing”.

It is undeniable that our surroundings, community and home environment are essential to the quality of life that each and every one of us enjoys. The connection between our living conditions and our quality of life is even more vital for those who have a disability, and, of course, tonight we focus on those with a learning disability, for whom more needs to be done to improve provision.

There are a number of misconceptions surrounding how people with learning disabilities live and the level of independence that they have. Many people assume that someone with a learning disability is likely to live at home with their parents and will have no hope of a relationship, job or a social life. However, the SCLD report tells us that 65 per cent of people with a learning disability do not live with a parent or carer—they live on their own or with others with a learning disability, and 52 per cent of them live in social housing, while 17 per cent of them live in supported accommodation.

In every area of our lives, whether it be what to wear in the morning, what to eat for breakfast or how to spend our spare time, we enjoy the autonomy of tailoring our choices to suit our wants and needs. People with a learning disability deserve to have the same freedom of choice as anyone else. It is important that the relevant bodies have the support, resources and ability to offer a balance between the provision of first-class, sustainable social care and the provision of a choice of accommodation to those who need it, which is of central importance.

We cannot have a return to the days of the large hospitals such as Lennox Castle or people being given inappropriate placements in care homes when they do not have a clinical need to be there. I welcome the fact that the SCLD report shows that there has been a significant reduction in the number of people in institutional care. However, as others have said today, there appear to be noticeable variations depending on the local authority. In some places, there appears to be more shared accommodation that is of a scale that borders on institutional. We do not need that. We know that people’s preference is for supported or core-and-cluster accommodation, or, in many cases, to be able to live in their own home with good social care support.

I very much welcome the minister’s comments about providing additional resource to build core-and-cluster and supported accommodation and I will make sure that my local government colleagues in Argyll and Bute Council understand that, because just now we are dealing with cases in which young men are being boarded out of the local authority area although a return home would be good for them, good for their parents and good for the council budget. I cannot conceive of other circumstances in which reducing the budget could give such positive results.

Kevin Stewart

I discussed the situation in Argyll and Bute with Cornerstone, when I met the charity in Aberdeen on Monday. I recognise what Jackie Baillie is saying in relation to certain local authorities. She is absolutely right, as was Graeme Dey, to highlight how much it is costing councils to keep folks in unacceptable situations. Moreover, in doing that, what is the human cost? I will do all that I can to encourage Argyll and Bute Council and other local authorities to use the finances that are available to look at the issue very carefully indeed.

Jackie Baillie

I am conscious of time, but I want to say that I take that as a positive message from the minister, which he can be sure I will repeat ad nauseam to everyone in Argyll and Bute.

Kevin Stewart

Please do.

Jackie Baillie

I look forward to working with the minister to secure additional funding, to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities in my area.

There has been considerable cross-party consensus on the whole issue today. I hope that that encourages the Scottish Government, local authorities and relevant bodies to work together, because we can improve the type and standard of housing that is available, and we need to do so for people with a learning disability, so that we can give them, and so that they can enjoy for themselves, the quality of life that they truly deserve.

18:16  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Everyone should expect to have the opportunity to live independently if they want to do so and to have the same life chances that anyone else has. Having somewhere to call one’s own is fundamental to that.

Last week, I spoke in the Government debate on the disability employment gap, the existence of which has a hugely negative impact on adults with learning disabilities as they strive to achieve economic and social fulfilment and independence. This week, I am pleased to add weight to the argument for social and economic independence as I congratulate my colleague Joan McAlpine on securing this debate on a key component of such independence: the availability of and access to suitable supported housing.

As many members have done, I will reference the great work of housing associations and the third sector in securing independent living for people. I want to talk about an organisation that I mentioned in the employment debate because of the training and work opportunities that it offers. Inspire (Partnership Through Life), in Inverurie in my constituency, also offers support with living and access to tenancies for adults with learning disabilities.

I mention Inspire first, because I will always remember chatting to a young woman who was working in Inspire’s soap-making initiative—Inspire has a little shop in Inverurie. She told me that she had just got the keys to a flat. She was very excited about moving into her new home and about the independence that awaited her, but it was particularly important to her that she would still be able to walk a wee bit up the road to visit her mum whenever she wanted to do so.

The importance that she placed on that reinforces an important point about the availability of affordable housing in rural areas. The same point was made clearly in the report that Enable Scotland circulated. Independent living should not mean that someone has to move out of their community and away from their family, friends and support network. Supported housing should be readily available locally, in small towns, as it is in Inverurie, where Ark Housing Association also offers supported independent living.

In the disability employment debate, I made the point that for parents of teenagers with autism, in particular, who are coming to the end of their school lives, there is considerable worry about what their children’s adult lives will bring by way of employment. The stress of balancing the wishes of a maturing young adult for the same freedoms and space of their own that their peers enjoy against concerns that support should be available for the young person must be acute. Young adults with learning difficulties want the same things that everyone else wants: they want privacy, they want love and sexual relationships, and they want to do their own thing.

The marrying of the two areas of support and independence must take into account the geography of family support. It is all the better if the housing comes with links to employment support programmes or befriender services. I take Jeremy Balfour’s point that loneliness can be a big factor and a big worry for parents as young adults move into supported accommodation.

The Scottish Government is engaged in the biggest programme of building affordable housing in 50 years, with a plan for 50,000 affordable houses by the end of this session of Parliament and a commitment that 35,000 of those will be available for social rent. I welcome the minister’s commitment to work with the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability to ensure that everything possible is being done to increase the suitability of that new stock for those with learning disabilities.

The housing voluntary grant scheme, which is provided by the Scottish Government, assists the third sector to provide the sort of housing advice and advocacy that can take some of the worry out of the process of accessing suitable accommodation, both for the people who are moving into it and perhaps for the parents of young adults who are trying to access it. As my son prepares to leave home, I am finding that that is not very easy, and it must be even harder for parents of young adults who need additional support to let them go and live an independent life. That advocacy and advice will be invaluable.

Just as the Government has committed to closing the disability employment gap, we must work with the Government, the third sector, housing associations, local authorities and learning disabled people to close the gap in housing to allow independence with support, and the life chances and opportunities that come with it, not just in urban environments but in smaller communities.

18:21  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I must say how much I have enjoyed the contributions from all members. In particular, I thank Joan McAlpine for bringing the debate to the chamber. We then heard from Jeremy Balfour, Jackie Baillie, Gillian Martin and Pauline McNeill, who is not here at the moment. I was particularly struck by Graeme Dey’s comments. He spoke with real passion about the situation in his area. I am often cynical about members’ debates, but Graeme Dey has really shown what we can do with them. The fact that the debate has come from a cross-party group is encouraging. I have been cynical about cross-party groups, too, but that one is obviously doing great work. I again thank Joan McAlpine.

It is clear that more needs to be done to support independent living for people with learning disabilities. Of course, that is not unique to them—more needs to be done for people who are homeless, those with a physical disability and the elderly. We certainly need greater choice in housing in this country. According to statistics produced by the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability, in 2013, there were just over 26,000 adults with a learning disability who needed support, and 16,000 children who were known to councils. The recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report “Housing and disabled people: Britain’s hidden crisis” made for harrowing reading. It pointed out that just 17 per cent of councils have a target for funding to adapt housing for people who need it, and that over half of councils reported that finding funding for adaptations is a challenge. I was heartened by the minister’s words on that issue.

The report calls for the setting of targets for accessible housing. I know that the minister is not in favour of that, for good reasons. I was also encouraged to hear that he has written to councils recently telling them to up their game, because they certainly need to step up to the plate. There is a shortage of suitable housing in Scotland across the board, and people with learning disabilities suffer disproportionately from that.

If we consider what is needed to provide supported living schemes for people with a learning disability, we see why local authorities need to improve. Supported living schemes include on-going assessment, hands-on and practical assistance, skills training and general advice and support. In my previous role as a South Lanarkshire councillor, I saw what can be done if we work properly with the disabled. I was involved in setting up a group for people to use self-directed support, and it is important that we empower people who have any sort of disability—learning or physical.

I thank Joan McAlpine again and every member who has spoken in this debate, particularly Graeme Dey.

18:25  

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government. I welcome this debate and the positive contributions from every member who has spoken. I particularly thank Joan McAlpine for raising this important issue and I acknowledge her role as vice-convener of the cross-party group on learning disability.

This is one of the debates in which my speech will change dramatically from what it was originally going to be. I make no apologies for that. I want to get across a number of messages, including the Scottish Government’s clear commitment to improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, which is set out in our keys to life strategy and its four strategic outcomes: a healthier life, choice and control, active citizenship, and independence.

We understand the importance of housing in achieving those outcomes and the role that appropriate housing can play in realising our vision for people with learning disabilities. We all know that a house is about more than bricks and mortar. It can be a safe space, the place that anchors us to our community and gives us a sense of place, and the place in which we gather with friends and families. People with learning disabilities have no less right to those things than any of us here. They have the right to participate as full and equal citizens, and that is what we should strive to achieve right across the country.

We want all disabled people in Scotland to live life to the full in homes that meet their needs. “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People”, which was launched in December 2016, set out a number of housing-related commitments that support that ambition. We have delivered supported housing projects across the country for people with learning disabilities. As Gillian Martin rightly pointed out, such projects should take place in rural areas as well as urban areas. Because Ms McAlpine is a South Scotland MSP, I have listed a number of projects that have taken place in the region in recent years, including in Galashiels, Kirkcudbright and Annan. Those projects have benefited those communities greatly.

However, there are many places where we are not getting it right. Graeme Dey was right to highlight the difficulties that there have been in Angus. I say to all local authorities that, when they formulate their strategic housing investment plans, make decisions about what is required in their areas, look at housing needs and demand assessments and follow the guidance of the local housing strategy that we are about to refresh, they should go beyond those. They should use a bit of common sense and gumption, look at their own casework and housing lists and interrogate the not only their own waiting lists but those of the housing associations and other organisations that operate in their areas. By using that gumption and common sense, they can put together the housing packages that are required to meet the needs of folk with learning difficulties and physical disabilities in their area.

Quite frankly, I imagine that the current situation of some of the folk whom Mr Dey talked about is costing Angus Council more than it would to provide them with the right facilities. Every single council has a duty to look at all that as they formulate plans, because we know that those fixes—which is what they often are—cost much more than just getting on with the job of delivery.

There is little excuse not to do that, as the affordable housing programme has put £756 million in the hands of local authorities this year, and, over the next three years, they will have £1.79 billion. That has given them the comfort of knowing exactly what they will have in the bank over the piece. Some councils have not managed to spend according to their resource planning assumptions.

Graham Simpson

I know that the minister does not want to set top-down targets for councils. Does he think that they should set their own targets?

Kevin Stewart

I definitely think that local authorities should look at the exact needs and demands in their area and meet those needs and demands. That is not rocket science. The affordable housing programme is a programme for all Scotland and all Scotland’s people, so we have to look at the ambitions of people with disabilities, whether learning or physical disabilities, and deliver for those folk as well.

Mr Simpson mentioned the Equality and Human Rights Commission and its report on housing for disabled people, which largely concentrated on folk with physical disabilities. I met representatives of the EHRC this morning and I hope that we can move forward in dealing with some of the recommendations that were made in the report. However, the report focused mainly on physical rather than learning disabilities.

I take cognisance of organisations that were mentioned by Jackie Baillie, Joan McAlpine and other members, such as Enable and the SCLD, which have a positive role to play in all this.

Beyond such organisations, I like to talk to people themselves. I always have great pleasure in going to the Aberdeen stronger together learning disability group to hear at first hand the views of people there, which are often somewhat different from the views of folk who advocate for them. It is good to hear directly from folk about their ambitions and what they want with regard to housing and other issues.

Whether on housing or other areas, we require not only continued effort from Government and stakeholders, including those in the housing sector, but co-operation from folk in local government. I have no problem with interrogating strategic housing investment plans and telling local authorities where they are and are not doing well. As elected members, every one of us has the duty to point out where local authorities are not meeting the expectations of our constituents.

I return to the point about listening to folk who have learning disabilities. No one knows their needs, concerns or aspirations better than they do. We all need to listen, including those folk who might not be doing quite so well with delivery.

Meeting closed at 18:35.