You may have seen Shelter’s recent report ‘Vision for social housing’ that came out earlier this month. One of its hard hitting conclusions is that 3.1 million new social homes need to be created in order to accommodate a rapidly growing UK population. With modern medicine improving year by year and quality of life on the rise we're living longer, but with that the ageing population will need to deal with mobility and any other number of disabilities that may arise, in homes that are just not designed for their needs anymore.
While it’s great news this important issue is getting aired nationally, as a disabled person I feel it’s just as important to discuss what type of new homes need to be built. Let's call it the elephant in the room of an accessible home. When you consider that disabled people are twice as likely to live in social housing than non-disabled people, you understand why this is a topic close to my heart as a disability rights campaigner.
I have a rare type of muscular dystrophy and have to use a powered wheelchair to get around, this means stairs in a home are a no go. An ideal home would be one level, with a flat entrance threshold so I can do that simplest thing we all take for granted - get in and out of my home. When I started to use a wheelchair full time, so began my quest with my local council to get an accessible home that would give me the independence I need to come and go as I please.
I called my local authority persistently every week to tell them my flat was unsuitable for my needs. I was unable to use my wheelchair inside to move and the bathroom was now almost unusable.
The unfortunate truth is some councils may tell you that, even if you are disabled, if you’re under the age of 65 you don’t fit the criteria needed to get an accessible home. In some cases this is possibly due to some specific properties being allocated for older people. I don’t believe this policy has malicious intent on the part of most councils. I think it’s because there is such a severe lack of accessible homes that are being or have been, built.
Recent research shows that at the moment, less than 20% of local authorities mention in their building plans the need for a certain amount of new homes to meet accessible design standards. So the shortage looks set to continue.
Luckily, for the last 6 years I’ve lived in a purposely built accessible home for disabled people provided by Habinteg Housing Association who specialise in providing accessible homes for people like myself, or for families that care for a disabled relative.
Just having appropriate housing can dramatically improve disabled people’s ability to live independently. I can’t believe that even after six years of living in a suitable property, I’m still reading about and speaking to people who are getting the same answers I did when I was looking for a more accessible place to live almost a decade ago.
Sometimes I feel that disabled people are an unseen demographic. Maybe this is because they literally can’t get out of their home. A home that isn’t designed or adapted to meet simple needs - like living the kind of independent life that everyone deserves. This is why it’s so important that not only local authorities, but the housing sector as a whole take note, and not only consider, but act upon the provision of accessible homes from the outset of their plans to build new housing.