There are two key problems with this view: 1) ignorance about accessible housing stock, and 2) failing to respect the right to choose where we live and why.
Accessible housing options
According to the Hidden Housing Market Report:
- 1.8 million disabled people have an accessible housing need
- At least 1 in 6 households that need accessible homes do not currently have all the accessibility features they need.
- The majority of those with accessible housing needs are already home owners.
Accessible housing campaigner, Fleur Perry says: “Accessible housing is a key pillar of Independent Living. Government need to act and make sure that we’re building the right amount of accessible housing and not continuing to let people down who have nowhere to go.”
So we need to frame this conversation within the frustrating backdrop of the lack of choice for disabled and older people.
The average bungalow in the UK costs £288,000. This is significantly more than your average one or two bedroom flat so – whether renting or buying – flats are naturally more affordable for many people.
There are many reasons why a disabled or older person may choose to live in a flat. As Claddag campaigner, Liz Kimber, explains “the set up of apartment-living works well for people with disabilities.” For some, this will be the lower maintenance needs, including a lack of garden and smaller footprint. Others value the support and security presented by a concierge service. There’s also the sense of community and company offered by neighbours in an apartment block.
We shouldn’t disregard the usual factors everyone applies to choosing where they live: transport links, proximity to work, access to schools and hospitals, links with family and friends. If we are lucky enough to have a choice where we live, some of those factors will have to take priority – for example, living somewhere that enables you to keep your job may trump living ‘anywhere as long as it’s on the ground floor’.
Ground floor availability
If you do decide that a ground floor flat is your priority, let’s circle back to availability of accessible housing stock. The Government recently announced a plan to spend £30 million that could lead to more than 17,000 new homes, but refuse to insist that a single one of them is built to strict accessibility standards.
Whether renting or buying, disabled people consistently face barriers – from bathroom door widths to hostile landlords. Let’s also not forget that in most town and city centres, the ground floor of apartment blocks is often designated commercial space.
Right to choose
Putting aside the practicalities of finding an accessible ground floor flat, disabled and older people should have the same right to choose where they live as non-disabled people. Why should a young disabled person be denied the chance to spend his early 20s enjoying ‘city life’ in a block with his friends? If an older couple chooses to downsize their house in a rural area, ditch their car and live in a block close to amenities, isn’t this a decision we should respect?
Of course, some disabled and older people would not feel safe living in high rise buildings. This was the case with many people who died in 2017 at Grenfell Tower and had spent years pleading with the Council to help them to move. Nobody should be forced to live anywhere they don’t feel safe and secure.
All residential buildings should be responsibly constructed to high levels of safety standards and the Government must urgently step in to fund their remediation work. We must design homes that are suitable for everyone in society, with comprehensive plans for evacuation from the outset. When this is not the case, people panic and we start hearing “well, disabled people shouldn’t be living here.” This reactionary and ableist mindset leads to segregation and harassment.
If you believe that segregation is not answer and that the real problem lies in the lack of inclusive design and building safety standards, please respond to the Government consultation by 19 July 2021.