Last week, Habinteg Housing Association published the results of a recent YouGov poll that it commissioned. Worryingly, it revealed that inaccessible housing had a significant impact on the wellbeing on disabled adults during lockdown. Of the disabled respondents surveyed, 35% were “unable to carry out all daily tasks and activities at home without assistance.” In addition, the survey found that 24% of disabled people do not have a home that meets their access needs.
Habinteg’s CEO, Sheron Carter, says, “Lockdown was challenging for most people, but this data shows that for far too many disabled people the challenges were significantly worse because of access issues within their home. For far too long disabled and older people have been expected to ‘make do’ and put up with being unable to carry out the basics of daily living with any degree of independence.
To make matters worse, the Government introduced temporary Care Act ‘easements’, meaning that local authorities won’t have to complete all the assessments or meet all the needs usually expected of them. Although not all councils have applied easements, this is an additional worry for disabled people who require assistance in order to carry out daily tasks.
It is difficult enough for disabled people when they are living in adequate accommodation and require assistance, but for those in inaccessible housing, the problems are multiplied.
Back in April 2020, 86.3% (9 in 10) of disabled adults said that they were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the effect that Covid-19 was having on their life, including feelings of isolation, fears about contracting the virus and concerns about accessing vital services.
The lockdown has had a detrimental effect on people’s mental wellbeing – both the able-bodied and the disabled, the young and the old – as the home has played the central role in most people’s lives for a significant part of the year. The lockdown experience will therefore differ dramatically, and those in poorer-quality housing are more likely to suffer adversely; physically, mentally and emotionally. In addition, a higher percentage of disabled than able-bodied people reported feeling unsafe when leaving their homes, hence confining them even more to their own four walls.
In December 2016, the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a formal enquiry into housing for disabled people, examining whether the availability of accessible and adaptable housing, and the support services associated with it, met disabled people’s rights to independent living. It concluded that delivery of adaptations at a local authority level need to improve, that advice and advocacy needs to be provided to help disabled people across all types of tenure and that Building Regulations for private-sector housing need to be improved. Furthermore, it reported that housing providers highlighted the lack of certainty in the funding and pressure on social care budgets of supported housing, which has led to a significant reduction in planned schemes, despite increasing demand.
One family of six, with whom I have been working, have an existing care plan for their disabled twins, both of whom have cerebral palsy, are tube fed and are wheelchair users. They are prioritised for emergency housing as they live in an extremely damp, two-bedroom flat, with no disability access for their daughters in the private rented sector.
The parents are struggling to care for their daughters themselves in wholly unsuitable conditions. Being in self-isolation has added to their burden and they are both suffering from severe anxiety as a result, in addition to impacting their physical health because of lifting and caring for their twins without fully appropriate adaptations in the home.
As the nation faces the inevitability of another lockdown, home building will need to be far more accessible than it is currently.
In my former position as Cabinet Member for Housing in Tower Hamlets I led on the Project 120 initiative to meet the needs of people with disabilities on the council housing register to develop bespoke disabled access homes. These homes would be prioritised in housing developments throughout the borough.
Back in 2011, in the London Accessible Housing Register guide, the then Deputy Mayor on Housing, Richard Blakeway said: “Disabled Londoners face particular problems in relation to housing, often being excluded from or unable to fully participate in decisions about their housing. Though Choice Based Lettings schemes offer more choice for home-seekers, unless accessible properties are included, those choices just aren’t there for disabled people. Too many homes are being let to people who don’t need accessibility features or adaptations and many disabled people are not being allocated an accessible home.”
It appears that over the past 9 years, the above problems still exist.
With the possibility of further social restrictions in the near future, the Government needs to ensure that local authorities are in a position to provide adaptations to the homes of disabled people to enable them to live independently.
We cannot deny or ignore the fact that disabled and elderly people deserve more than just “making do”.
By Cllr Rabina Khan The Liberal Democrat Party Shadwell Ward