Last month Amber Rudd announced that hundreds of thousands of pensioners and disabled people will no longer have to undergo benefits reviews. She went on to say the government wants to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.
Regardless of the policy backstory surrounding disability employment, the fact it’s being addressed is constructive. But it’s a bit like claiming you want to bake a cake when you don’t have an oven. The goal of getting over one million disabled people into work in eight years’ time begs the question - where are they going to live?
Research from Habinteg and The Papworth Trust – conducted by the London School of Economics - shows that disabled people living in inaccessible homes are four times more likely to be unemployed. One of the reasons for this is that many simply cannot leave their homes to attend a place of work, never mind the interview.
As a wheelchair user with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), I can attest to this. Like many young people in the UK, I aspired to move to London and find my dream job, however, nothing is ever quite that simple.
After graduating from Durham university, I moved back in with my parents in Cheshire so I could work with a local charity to bolster my CV and save money for the London-life I was keen to be a part of.
Naively, I assumed that London, one of the world’s mega-cities, would have an abundance of accessible homes available to rent. I was wrong. I started my new job in October last year, without having anywhere to live. I was fortunate to know someone else with SMA who wanted to rent out his flat while he worked abroad. This is by no means a permanent solution. He often returns to London and stays in the flat meaning I have to move out – but it is a lifeline.
My hunt is six months in and the outlook isn’t rosy. Many of my peers – who have no access requirements but similar budgets – have found flats within a few weeks. Properties are certainly out there, they're just not remotely accessible.
It says a lot that I’ve never had any expectations of acquiring a “Category 3” home. By that I mean a home that is specifically designed to meet the needs of wheelchair users.
My independent living is now dependent on portable hoists and dismantling bathrooms - which is not safe, dignified or comfortable. Surely the ability even to let yourself into your own home shouldn’t be considered an unattainable luxury?
I have put offers in for three properties, all have been rejected due to high demand. Accessible properties tend to be more modern and therefore more highly sought after. I have to cover the cost of a larger flat because I need a room for a personal assistant. Add in the additional costs of living with a disability and the option of offering rent over the asking price is simply not possible.
Any plans to support more disabled people into work must go hand in hand with improving the provision of accessible housing. The latest English Housing survey data shows that just 7% of homes in England offer even the most basic combination of access features. With a growing population of disabled and older people, I think it’s vital that this figure improves.
Before targets to narrow the UK’s disability employment gap are made even more ambitious, the Government must recognise the crucial role that the availability of accessible housing plays in enabling disabled people like me to obtain and retain work.
We’re delighted to report that a few weeks after writing this Millie had success in finding a home that suits her needs, or in her words, “I have actually had some progress of my own - I viewed a property last week which I have put an offer in for, it's the most accessible property I've seen in a while and I just found out it got accepted!”