Aileen Evans is the president of the Chartered Institute of Housing and chief executive at Grand Union Housing Group. In this blog, Aileen shares why she is calling on UK housing to get serious about providing accessible homes.
Everyone deserves a place they can truly call home, and for many who live with a disability, that means a home that they can use to its fullest; one that doesn’t make life more difficult but one that meets their needs and provides comfort. This shouldn’t be a difficult ask but so often it is. It’s widely accepted that we have a housing shortage and this has had a disproportionate impact on many people who don’t just need a home but one that is accessible and enhances quality of life rather than detract from it.
For these reasons, I am a keen supporter of the #ForAccessibleHomes campaign, started by Habinteg in 2016. Building homes that enable rather than disable shouldn’t be something we have to give a second thought to, and yet, as housing providers, it’s something we need to get better at. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), disabled people are less likely to own their own home and, if you have a disability, you’re three times more likely to live in social housing. This is because it’s more affordable, provides more security of tenure and social landlords are more willing to adapt a property. But what if we build many more properties that can be easily adapted or require minimal adaptation? Think about the impact that this would have.
At Grand Union, we provide housing and support to over 700 adults with a learning disability; we work in a way that encourages independence. If we apply this criterion to all the homes we build and ensure that more of our homes are properly accessible then we’re also going to be able to make sure that we can support more people to be independent if their circumstances change. Being independent means being able to have choice and control over their lives – when to have a coffee, a meal or a shower, or what time to go to bed – wouldn’t we want that for ourselves? Adapting a typical home costs up to five times more than making it adaptable when we design it, so it’s sensible to do this.
We know housing and mental health are often linked. On this year’s CIH presidential campaign, #ShineALight, we’ve been working hard to help housing organisations raise their game on mental health. Poor mental health can make it harder to cope with housing problems, while being homeless or having problems in your home can make your mental health worse. A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2018 states:
Disabled people can experience serious deterioration in their mental wellbeing due to living in unsuitable accommodation. We heard evidence of people eating, sleeping and bathing in one room. We heard of family members carrying people upstairs and between rooms.
I grew up in a home where my Aunty Pam lived with us for a time. Aunty Pam had Cerebral Palsy. She could not walk so used a wheelchair to get around and needed significant support. We had no downstairs loo, so Aunty Pam would want to stay upstairs because she only had to shout for some help to get to the toilet, not be carried upstairs numerous times.
In April 2017, Shelter conducted research to explore the relationship between housing and mental health which solidifies this thinking. During the research, the team interviewed 3,509 adults of various age, gender region and socio-economic grade to try and discover whether housing issues (such as poor access), had any impact upon respondents’ physical or mental health. The results showed 1 in 5 (21%) of the adult sample said a housing issue had negatively impacted upon their mental health in the last five years
Throughout the pandemic, for some, home has been a sanctuary but for others, it has been a prison – something research conducted by the YouGov for the #HomesAtTheHeart campaign showed. It found almost a third (31%) of adults in Britain – 15.9 million people – have had mental or physical health problems because of the condition of, or lack of space in, their home during lockdown and more than half of people (52%) who said their home was not big enough said they’d suffered from health problems during lockdown.
It's unfortunate that we were already experiencing a mental health crisis pre-COVID and the impact of lockdown has meant that 75% of us have had COVID related anxiety (ONS) – imagine living in an environment that adds to that.
So come on UK Housing – let’s do better; let’s be serious about being #ForAccessibleHomes and let’s do it now.