The UK government has failed to realise the urgent support needs of disabled people who are having to endure “unbearable” safety work that is being carried out on their flats following the Grenfell fire, politicians have been told.
Many disabled people face the prospect of having to move out and find somewhere else to live temporarily while such “remediation” work is carried out, despite the drastic shortage of accessible accommodation.
Those who can stay in their flats while safety work is taking place outside – including the replacement of dangerous cladding – are often having to cope with “debilitating” levels of noise and dust.
Georgie Hulme, co-founder of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, was giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) to the Welsh parliament’s local government and housing committee.
She told the committee: “Living through remediation works is frustrating and unbearable for anyone but can be particularly debilitating and dangerous for disabled people.”
Hulme, who has multiple impairments and health conditions, told the committee that she was experiencing “physical pain now at the thought of what’s to come”.
She said: “On any day, if things become unbearable for me, I won’t be able to leave the flat to escape for a break when I am on my own.”
She added: “The impact of dust can be dangerous for people with health and respiratory issues.
“To date, there has been no UK government acknowledgement of the need to increase support hours to help us through remediation works.
“How can the full responsibility be on local authorities, following major budget cuts and services being overstretched?”
Hulme, a wheelchair-user, said the shortage of accessible accommodation in Manchester meant she could be left temporarily homeless if she is forced to move out.
She told the committee that the high levels of stress caused by fearing for her safety in the event of a fire, as well as worrying about her finances and future for the last three years “with no end in sight”, had made her ill and left her hospitalised many times.
She and her Claddag co-founder, Sarah Rennie, are awaiting the result of their high court challenge of the government’s refusal to ensure that all disabled people can safely evacuate from high-rise blocks of flats in emergencies.
Their case followed the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, in which those who died were disproportionately disabled people.
The inquiry found that, with every disabled resident who died in the fire, there had been no plan in place to help them evacuate, or to ensure their information was available for the fire and rescue service to help them evacuate.
The Grenfell fire led to 72 people losing their lives, including 15 of 37 disabled residents, on the night of 14 June 2017.
But the government later rejected the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendation that all owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be forced to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan for all residents who might find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
Hulme told the committee this week: “We urge you to take time to understand the additional and complex ways in which disabled and older people are impacted by the building safety crisis.”
She called particularly for cross-departmental policy that addresses the health and social care impact of living in flats undergoing remediation works, “the disproportional impact of the financial burden of the crisis on disabled and older people, provision of accessible alternative accommodation for disabled people, and the urgent need for emergency evacuation plans for all”.
Rennie has been told she will need to move out when internal work is carried out on her block of flats, but she then faces the threat of losing her NHS continuing healthcare support package if she has to leave the area for more than 28 days.
“There is nowhere for me to move to. I have a profile bed, a hoist, a wet-room.
“We’re looking at a solution where I go and live with my parents, which is ideal, but it would trigger that my care funding would stop because I would be leaving the area.”
She said it was vital for governments to consider the ways in which policies “overlap” between different departments.
She said: “There are a lot of policies that are conflicting and there just needs to be some leadership around some… policies to get us through the next few years.”
She said that many older and disabled people are afraid to advocate for themselves and talk about their concerns about ongoing safety work “for fear of consequences, being perceived as vulnerable or unable to look after themselves or their partners”.
Megan Thomas, policy and research officer for Disability Wales, told the committee that many of the concerns faced by disabled people in Wales were breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
She said: “As the Welsh government has committed to incorporation [of the convention into Welsh law] we would like to see what steps are being taken to build the housing stock up to those obligations.”
And she said there needed to be more engagement with disabled people on housing and living standards, particularly when remediation work is being carried out.
Thomas called for legislation that would set out the respective responsibilities of developers and local authorities when temporary housing was needed.
She said: “One of the big problems here is that emergency and alternative housing in Wales is incredibly poor, incredibly difficult to access, and most of what is even termed accessible housing is not accessible at all.”
Picture: Sarah Rennie (left) and Georgie Hulme
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