Sheron Carter: Our future homes must be accessible to wheelchair users | News

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Sheron Carter: Our future homes must be accessible to wheelchair users

(This article was originally published in Inside Housing)

Our recent YouGov poll revealed that most people in Britain are not able to welcome a wheelchair user into their home because of poor access.

This is the limiting reality of our current housing stock, and it strongly demonstrates the need to ensure that our new homes are designed with a wider range of people in mind.

Habinteg was founded in 1970 with the sole purpose of creating accessible and inclusive homes and communities where disabled and non-disabled people can live ordinary lives as neighbours.

The concept of 'visitability' is key to this mission and today, as our population ages rapidly, this mission is more important than ever.

If our families are to maintain intergenerational relationships, if disabled children are to be included in classmates' birthday parties, and if hospital stays are to be kept to their minimum possible length, we need homes that are fit to welcome all.

Of course, if a home isn't able to accommodate a visit from a wheelchair user, neither would it be suitable as a permanent wheelchair user's dwelling.

So our poll results also explain why so many disabled and older people still struggle when they try to move for work, study or family reasons.

All too often we hear from new Habinteg tenants of their years of searching.

For some, 'making do' becomes a long-term way of life that limits independence, opportunities, work prospects and family and social life, as well as impacting on their physical and mental health and well-being.

The latest English Housing Survey data on accessibility revealed that just 7% of homes in England have the features to be categorised as ‘visitable’.

Add to that the fact that 80% of homes that we will be living in by 2050 have already been built and the case for higher standards in every single new home we build becomes even more compelling. In 10 years' time, the need for accessible homes will be even greater.

Predictions show that by 2036, 28% of the UK population will be aged 65 and over. The profile of the national housing stock must change to keep up with the demographics, or risk triggering a whole new housing crisis of a different kind.

Sadly, there is much more to do before this insight makes the impact we need on policy, either at national or local levels. In 2015, building regulations introduced optional standards for accessible homes. The National Planning Policy Framework told councils that their planning policies should specify a sufficient and specific amount of housing built to these standards to meet local need.

A few councils are planning and building more accessible homes.

However our June report, A forecast for accessible homes, found that only 1% of homes due to be built outside London by 2030 are set to be suitable for wheelchair users, and only 22% are set to meet the inclusive accessible and adaptable standard set out in building regulations.

Habinteg has long advocated for better access for all new homes. We’re not suggesting a universal Grand Designs approach (although the recent episode focusing on a wheelchair user’s needs provided insight into how a high-end solution can look). A huge amount could be achieved through simply increasing the amount of inclusively designed adaptable housing.

We believe 90% of homes should be built to the accessible and adaptable M4 Category 2 standard, with 10% built to the M4 Category 3 wheelchair standard. This approach has been successful in the London Plan for 15 years. Now we need it to be implemented nationally.

We do have some hope for this. One of the commitments Theresa May made before leaving office was to consult on the idea of making M4 Category 2 the regulatory baseline standard for all new homes.

And despite the grip that Brexit has on Westminster, I was pleased to see the consultation mentioned in the chancellor’s Autumn Spending Round.

So while we’re disappointed by the results of our YouGov poll, we look forward to the opportunity the consultation gives to make the case for those who are ‘making do’ in unsuitable homes and those thousands and thousands of children and adults routinely excluded from visiting friends and family.

If we’re serious about the housing sector’s role in developing thriving communities where people develop their potential and put down lasting roots, we can and should be building homes to be inclusive of all.