When discussing the lack of accessible housing in the UK, the conversation often centres around older people or future proofing a home for later life. However, young disabled people often face an uphill struggle to find accommodation that is adapted to their needs, as a recent report in the Big Issue highlights.
According to the Habinteg Housing Association, only 427 wheelchair accessible homes are built in the UK each year, despite the fact that there are about 20,000 people on council waiting lists for such homes. Furthermore, 104,000 are waiting to be housed in an accessible or adapted home, with features such as wet rooms and step-free access.
The Big Issue spoke to Isabelle Atkins, who is 26 and lives in Warwickshire with her parents. Isabelle has a masters degree and a job with a local charity, and like any young person at the beginning of her life, she is looking to set up a home of her own. However, because Isabelle uses a wheelchair, she is finding it impossible to find a suitable home.
She said: “People don’t realise that anybody can be affected by disability. All of a sudden, you could be stuck in a house that is confining you to potentially one or two rooms. Before I had adaptations in my parents’ house I would either have to get carried upstairs or I’d have to pee with the door open. It’s a lack of dignity.”
Isabelle was initially offered an accessible bungalow as part of a social rent development at her village, but the council have since moved her to a low-priority case due to her age, despite having lived in the village since she was four years old.
Given the almost complete lack of adapted and accessible properties available to rent, she has almost no prospect of living independently in the foreseeable future. This is a huge source of worry as she is not sure how long her ageing parents will be able to look after her at home.
Isabelle adds: “My parents are getting older and struggling with their health. They’re not going to be able to care for me much longer. I need to find my own accommodation but, as far as the council is concerned, that’s not their problem.”
Mikey Erhardt, campaigns and policy officer at Disability Rights UK, commented: “Too many young disabled people have to put the rest of their lives on hold as they wait years for accessible homes. The situation is only getting worse, with the high cost of rents making it less likely that young disabled people can afford to move out, let alone into an accessible home.”
He adds: “Many local authorities struggle to connect with their local disabled community,” Erhardt says. “This lack of understanding means that very few are in touch with the housing needs of young disabled people. We often hear that local authorities do not appreciate the importance of an accessible or adapted home.”
For Isabelle, this means that despite her qualifications and capabilities, she is trapped in her home village without the usual opportunities to develop her career and move to a different area to take up a job offer. This leaves in the unwanted and frustrating situation of being defined by her disability, which is caused by a genetic condition.
She says: “Nothing is easy. I can’t just find a house and move like everybody else. If I wanted to move for a job, it would be impossible. I’m stuck where I am. The way social housing works, you have to have a job offer to get on waiting lists, but you don’t get a house for years. You go round in circles. It’s defining my life.”
“I’ve despaired at the state of the accessible housing provision before. But this time it is exceptionally personal – I’ve had independence dangled over me then snatched away callously. It feels that, as a disabled person, I will never be allowed independence.”
A spokesperson for Stratford-upon-Avon District Council commented: “We are aware of this person and their circumstances and are confident that the current priority awarded to their application is appropriate. It is true that a mistake was made.”
“The council regrets this, resolved it swiftly, has been completely transparent about the error and have apologised for any distress that was caused.”
There are grants available to enable disabled people to adapt their homes for independent living. These include making costly changes such as widening doors and installing ramps, building an extension such as a downstairs bathroom or bedroom, building a level access shower, installing stair lifts, or installing motion sensor or no-touch technology.
Anyone with a physical or learning disability is eligible to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant, along with people with age-related conditions and progressive degenerative diseases. The grants are also available to landlords who want to make a rented property accessible to a tenant. In England, the maximum amount available grant is £30,000.
The amount a person receives is means tested, which means that it depends on their income and amount of savings over £6,000. Tenants can also apply for the grant themselves, but they will need the landlord’s permission before carrying out any work. The money must be used only for its stated purpose.
Minor adaptations costing less than £1,000, such as installing grab rails in the bathroom, will be provided and fitted free of charge by the local authority. In the first instance, the council should carry out a free care needs assessment to help them give advice about which equipment and adaptations are most suitable for the person’s needs.
If you are interested in finding out more information about a disabled walk in shower, call us on 01491 411041 or visit our website.