Labour is refusing to promise that all the 150,000 council and social homes it would build every year would meet basic accessibility standards, despite the government facing legal action over its own failure to act on the accessible housing crisis.
Labour has announced plans for a “housing revolution” that would use £75 billion in new funding to build 100,000 council homes (an increase of more than 3,500 per cent) and at least 50,000 “genuinely affordable” homes a year by the end of the next parliament.
It described the plans as the “biggest overall affordable housebuilding programme since the 1960s”.
The announcement said there would be homes “available in every area for families, trapped younger renters, and older people in sub-standard homes”, but made no mention of working-age disabled people and the crisis in accessible housing.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) also failed to mention the needs of disabled people when he announced the party’s plans, saying: “I am determined to create a society where working-class communities and young people have access to affordable, good quality council and social homes.”
And although shadow housing secretary John Healey said the housing would be built to “cutting-edge design and green standards”, he also failed to mention the accessible housing crisis.
Asked what proportion of the new homes would be built to the accessible and adaptable Lifetime Homes standard*, and what proportion would be fully wheelchair-accessible, a Labour spokesperson suggested that no targets would be set, and that many homes could be built that did not comply with basic accessibility standards.
He said it was “a really important issue for us”, and publicly funding the homes would give a Labour government “the ability to demand better standards than we often get in the private sector”.
But the spokesperson made it clear that any decisions on the accessibility of new homes “would be taken locally”, although Labour “would expect” that all homes that receive public funding would be built to the Lifetime Homes standard.
He added: “In many cases, councils and housing associations would no doubt be able to go further than this, particularly if they have identified a particular need for accessible accommodation, but those decisions would be taken locally.”
Only two months ago, the Conservative government was told that it could face legal action over its failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing.
Tory housing secretary Robert Jenrick was told that he may have acted unlawfully by not complying with his public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.
Research by Disability News Service showed last year that the home-building industry was engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built by trying to set targets in their local plans.
Campaigner Fleur Perry, who uses an electric wheelchair, has told Jenrick that it took her two-and-a-half years to find accessible housing in her home town of Swindon, a search she described as “like trying to find a needle in Loch Ness”.
She has spoken to disabled people who have been waiting for a decade for accessible housing or have been told by social services that it was pointless to even try to find somewhere.
Disabled people have been forced to turn down job offers, delay higher education opportunities or starting a family, live in just one or two rooms of their homes, or move into nursing homes, she says.
A report by the accessible housing provider Habinteg in June said that under a quarter (23 per cent) of new homes due to be built by 2030 outside London were planned to be accessible, and just one per cent of new homes outside London were set to be suitable for wheelchair-users.
*The Lifetime Homes standard was developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use