1.8 million disabled people with unmet housing needs
580,000 of whom are of working age
2/3 of single disabled people living alone are in poverty
Disabled people are twice as likely as non disabled people to be social housing tenants
There is a shortage of accessible housing across Britain.
Of the councils in England with a housing plan, fewer than 17% of councils have set out strategies to build disabled-friendly homes
Thanks to Miriam Binder Brighton DPAC, for this excellent account of the difficulties disabled people face when looking for accessible housing
There is indeed a crisis in Housing and this holds probably truer for disabled people and it must be added, the long-term ill, then any other group. Why this is the case is down to a number of factors. As we all know, or should do by now, the Housing Crisis as it stands at the moment is due to not the rising number in Housing Need as such but rather the inequality that exists within society.
Here in England, Housing has been beset by a number of issues. I will not delve into the complexities surrounding home ownership, initial mortgages and the varying types of mortgage. Not because they are inconsequential but because, for the majority of disabled people and the long-term sick, they are by and large, unobtainable. Whether there is a Disabled Community is questionable as the sheer diversity in Disability and Long-Term Illness is immense. I am mobility impaired and rely on my trusty wheelchair, the Grim Creeper, to get me around. But I can see, provided my spectacles prescription is up to date. My hearing is functional despite what my grandchildren may have to say at times – especially when it comes to them demanding more chocolate or, as is the case with the older ones, more pocket money.
Disability and Long-Term Illness covers a large diversity of impairments. From Mobility through to Cognitive and Mental impairments. In addition, there is the fluctuation of symptoms, when someone is undergoing treatment, which by and large is of concern to the Long-Term Ill however can at times also be an issue for disabled people; regardless of whether this is a life long disability, from birth that is, or an acquired disability, as in my case, where it only became a factor in my middle years. I will refer to us, for the sake of this discussion, as the Disabled Community.
I’ll start with a bit of background. I am fortunate enough to be a council tenant. I’ve been one now for 38 years. When mobility first became a real issue, I was still the tenant of what was my family home. I lived in a three-bedroom house with the bedrooms and bathroom located upstairs. Nothing fancy but good accommodation for what was at the time, the size of my family. My daughters grew up and, as is the habit of such creatures, left home one by one. I started considering downsizing. However, as my mobility worsened I realised that a high-rise flat was not the most suitable move. I remained in that house, under occupying, for 4 years after my youngest left home. The last two years I rarely made it to the second floor. I slept on the sofa in the front room. I bathed, or what passed as bathed, at the kitchen sink. I was fortunate that the house had a downstairs toilet.
I was bidding … a truly atrocious method of seeking rehousing in the Social Housing sector; not least of which is the requirement of having internet access. I was however also dependant on the ranking I was given by the Council as to whether a bid would be considered acceptable. I ended up refusing to pay any additional charges and the matter eventually ended up in court with the ever-ready threat of eviction looming over me. Being a self-possessed, articulate and relatively educated individual, I got the point across that I need a ground floor property and, with the magistrate siding with me on this issue, I eventually got my current bungalow. I also was in some housing debt but that, given my desperate need for suitable housing, was a minor consideration at the time.
The trouble was, and yes this isn’t the end of the story, my dream home, this one-bedroom bungalow, was not wheelchair accessible. There was a 19cm step entering the house and a 7cm step exiting it. For two years I had to lift a 93-kilo wheelchair across these steps, every time I needed to exit or enter my home. I am now not only disabled because of my lower limbs not functioning properly but also have limitations in my right arm due to a severely torn rotor cuff.
Adaptations however are not that easily obtained. There is a process one has to go through which is rather complex. And even when it has been accepted that the adaptation is necessary, by the appropriate Social Services department, there is the matter of financing said adaptation. This matter falls within the remit of an entirely different department.
To cut a long story relatively short, I ended up having to present a deposition to the Housing Committee to eventually gain the finance necessary to provide my adaptation. Bless the soul of the Adult Social Care assessor that came to the property as she determined that while they were adapting my access into the home, they may as well adapt my bathroom so that I would be able to shower without risking a fall every time. I got a wet room at the same time.
Not that that was the end of the adaptations required to mean I could actually retain independence in my home. It took a total of 5 years to make my home adapted to my needs. Included there also 3 years of not being able to use the kitchen. The only thing that is now worrying me on the home front is if ever I need care. There is no room in my home for anyone to sleep. It has presented some problems when I’ve been to hospital for treatment. I’ll tell no lie but I do lie. I would get one of my daughters to come ‘spring me’ from the hospital, assure the hospital that someone would remain with me at home and then, once released, would go home alone, crawl in to bed and pray there were no post-operative complications.
We live in a society that has many gorgeous houses built over the centuries. Wonderful places with wonderful spaces for people to live and have families. The problem is that few, if any, of these places are adaptable. Those that are adaptable are limited to the extent of adaptation possible. Then there is the fact that the Disabled people and long-term ill are generally speaking amongst the poorer in society. Buying a home is, as a rule, beyond most. We, by and large, depend on renting our residences. That presents a particular problem in that renting in the private sector is problematic. Not just the sheer cost and the short-termism of rental agreements but also the issue of adaptations. Few, if any, private landlords would be willing to have extensive adaptations done to their property just because they have a given tenant for the next 6, 12 or 36 months.
There are other issues. Temporary housing which is far from disabled friendly due to lack of adaptations. Ill suited for people recovering from and between treatments such as chemo- or radiotherapy, dialysis and others. One young man, a tetraplegic wheelchair user, ended up in a 2nd floor attic flat. There was no way of getting his wheelchair to the flat so he had to be bodily hauled up and down to the place. Even if he could have managed to get his wheelchair into the flat, there was no room to move around in the flat with a wheelchair. In addition, treatment to enable him to regain, or at least retain, some movement was denied as, according to the NHS, there was little sense in treating him while his body was being abused daily because of his housing situation.
You see, with disabled people and long-term sick, it is not enough to get a roof over your head. The roof needs to be over a place you can move around in, you can store any equipment you need and you can have an overnight visitor stay for when you need that extra care. This cannot be addressed on an ad hoc basis. Nor can we remain reactive to need but we must become proactive to potential. If you come across someone who has, let us say for argument sake, Peripheral Vascular Disease, today they may walk short distances, enough to hobble around the house but tomorrow, or if not tomorrow at sometime in the future, they will be totally incapable of walking, requiring amputation of at least one if not both, feet or legs.
We must also bear in mind that Disabled people and the long-term ill have families, brothers and sisters and yes, children. We need to ensure that all building programmes, and certainly all social building programmes, build houses with, as standard, wider doorways, level access, wide hallways and rooms we can easily adapt if they require a lift, lower access cupboards and a cooker that can be used while seated. We need these properties in all shapes and sizes. Neither disability, be it from birth or an acquired one, nor long term illness will go away. They are part of humanity and a parcel of life. Let us make sure that any programmes of building we engage in will have at least the facility to adapt, easily and simply and that the groundwork is already done.