By Fleur Perry, Habinteg Insight Group member
We can all agree that 2020 has not been the best year. Let's not do this again. Ever.
The social isolation of lockdown, the shift to working from home, and the extensive planning needed to perform a simple errand that millions of people suddenly experienced are not new to many disabled people. It was fascinating watching some people adapt to doing things the way I have done for years, decades.
Public transport unusable? Yes. Meeting only accessible to you virtually? Yes. Cooking with what you have in the house because it's just too much hassle to go shopping? Yes. Prepping for in case you get ill? Yes. Making every decision balancing the potential gain with the risk to your health? Yes. None of this was new to me.
My pandemic panics were more along the lines of: Will I be treated fairly if I need to go to hospital? Will I be able to get back-up supplies for my non-invasive ventilation equipment? Will my care package be OK? Will we have enough PPE? Are my friends safe?
For me, all of the above has been a yes so far. That's not been the case for all disabled people. Two thirds of those who have died of COVID-19 were disabled people. I don't want to see numbers like that ever again.
One thing I didn't have to worry about was housing. I live in a little bungalow that's just accessible enough for me. Even during lockdown, I could get in and out easily to access the garden, watch the thunderstorms and feel the rain, and speak to neighbours and family from a safe distance. I was locked down, not locked in. I was in a safe place that met my needs.
My favourite accessibility feature? A front door with no steps.
I'm lucky. I live in an area with a lot of new builds, and have access to knowledge about my rights.
We know that there's a solvable shortage of accessible housing. We know that millions of disabled people were locked down in inappropriate and unsafe housing. We know that some still don't have the choice of whether or not to go out.
Last week, the Government announced the long-awaited consultation on accessible housing. It seeks views on five options, the first of which I would summarise as “do nothing”. If, like me, you believe this is not an option at all, please respond to the consultation and tell them why.
If the government were to decide to set a minimum proportion of housing to be built to adaptable/accessible standards, this could make a huge difference to both disabled people and wider society, as inclusion is an asset. If the building of houses is the way to economic recovery, as has been promised, this is the way to make it sustainable and meaningful.
Habinteg’s most recent insight report, Forecast for accessible homes: Accessible housing in local plans, showed that very few local authorities had taken steps to make sure that accessible housing was built. Most seemed to have ignored the idea altogether, and some of the figures used within the planning documents did not allow me to understand how they were calculated.
Solving this problem at a national level would be a huge forward leap, and would make sure that disabled peoples' right to suitable housing could become a reality.
Respond to the Government consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes