15 Dec 2022
No other group is as reliant on the social housing sector as Disabled people. A quarter (24.9 per cent) of Disabled people rent social housing, compared to 7.9 per cent of non-disabled people.
Social housing provides greater stability through its more secure tenancies. Social landlords are often more willing to install adaptations and provide support if required.
And yet the issues that plague our unequal housing system have bled into the social housing sector. An overwhelming 91 per cent of homes do not provide even the lowest level of accessibility. This leaves fewer than one in ten homes suitable for older or disabled people to live in or even visit.
Our system is broken, and Disabled people deserve change.
Questions of access
Britain's overwhelming lack of accessible homes is a huge issue, with many complicating factors leading to one big problem. Currently, around 1.8 million Disabled people have unmet housing needs (DCLG, 2015a).
Consider how important a warm, secure, accessible home is to the rest of your life, and you can understand why so many of us are fed up with the status quo.
Our housing situation keeps us out of work, with those who live in inaccessible homes being four times more likely to be unemployed. And yet of the total 1.8 million Disabled people who have an accessible housing need – 580,000 of us are of working age.
We want the independence and control that a truly accessible home can provide. The EHRC spoke to people with learning disabilities who live with their family and friends and found that they wanted greater independence. Around 70 per cent report that they want to change their housing arrangements to achieve this (Mencap, 2012). More and more, our housing situations are holding us back from living the lives that we want to.
And it's not just because our homes weren't built with us in mind in the first place. Accessing "reasonable" in-home adaptations is another major problem. We are often left waiting for long periods, even for minor adaptations.
One survey found that the time between application and installation is, on average, 22 weeks (eight weeks for a decision and 14 weeks for installation), although some local authorities have waiting times of a year or more.
So what can be done?
Well, to put it bluntly, local authorities are not building enough accessible homes to meet demand. The number of Disabled people is increasing; in 2016, there were an estimated 13.3 million disabled people in Britain, up from 11.9 million in 2013/14 (ONS, 2017). The figure is now over 14 million.
We need every Local Planning Authority to build new accessible homes with a set proportion of new homes to be delivered to wheelchair-accessible standards, which is what groups like the Housing Made for Everyone coalition has called for. Together, our coalition demands that the 'accessible and adaptable' design standard is the mandatory baseline for all new homes. And that enough homes are built for wheelchair users.
But it's not just about the housing we are going to build, we need changes to those we already have. Councils need to urgently address the barriers that exist within adaptation systems, to ensure that low-cost, minor adaptations can be installed quickly and easily.
We know that retrofitting our crumbling housing stock will only become more and more important. Here, accessibility is part of the wider picture for disabled people. When we look forward to the necessary actions to make our homes warmer, safer and more environmentally sustainable, why can't we also make them more accessible?
Can we also make them more affordable? As it stands, all of us are paying more and more for less. We need to see rent controls across tenures, introduced at local levels with the involvement of disabled people's organisations, alongside a suite of policies to address the housing crisis.
The future we deserve
The housing sector is a dangerous mess for Disabled people. We experience inaccessible homes, huge rates of disrepair, hazardous homes and poor behaviour from housing providers across tenures.
We need action to tackle the housing emergency, freeze rents for all, and retrofit our houses to make them more accessible and adaptable so they are finally places we are able to call home.
Michael Erhardt is from Disability Rights UK.