Disabled campaigners have raised fears that the government is attempting to delay introducing measures that could help solve the accessible housing crisis.
Members of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) raised the concerns after seeing a letter written by a government minister to Manchester MPs.
Lord Greenhalgh, the minister for building safety and communities, had been asked about the government’s plans for increasing the supply of accessible housing, after the MPs had been approached by GMCDP.
GMCDP was concerned about continuing delays to government action, following an accessible housing consultation that ended last December.
The consultation offered five possible options for reform – including a “do nothing” option” – but the government did not suggest which of those options it supported.
One of the options – backed by GMCDP in the consultation – was to raise the minimum access standards for all new homes (apart from in exceptional cases) and to force a minimum proportion of homes to be built to an even stricter wheelchair-accessible standard.
Similar measures have been in place in London for the last five years, with a minimum of 10 per cent of new homes in the capital now having to be suitable for wheelchair-users.
Now, nearly seven months after the government consultation ended, Lord Greenhalgh has told the MPs in a letter that the government is also carrying out research into the “prevalence and demographics of impairment in England” and the “ergonomic requirements and experiences of disabled people”.
GMCDP’s member-led housing working group has raised concerns about this research programme.
It has told Disability News Service (DNS): “In the view of GMCDP this is an attempt to further delay making a decision about this issue.”
The group said the need for more accessible housing was “obvious” and “acknowledged”, while it said that many non-disabled people prefer the slightly more generous standards of an accessible home.
The need for a research programme on the “prevalence and demographics of impairment in England” was therefore “unnecessary to demonstrate the need for accessible homes”, the group said.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “The number of accessible homes has nearly doubled in a decade and we have recently consulted on ways of improving the accessibility of new homes.
“We are also conducting vital research to ensure we have the most up to date information about the needs of disabled people so they can be fully taken into account when developing future policy.”
MHCLG said the research mentioned by Lord Greenhalgh was about collecting data on disabled people and their practical needs, and that it was linked to, but separate from, the accessible housing consultation and would inform the possible updating of technical standards.
If the consultation indicates the need for changes to the regulations or guidance, the research will make sure that these changes accurately reflect the prevalence of impairments and the need for accessible housing, the department said.
But MHCLG also admitted that the research, which has only just begun, is not expected to report for another 12 months, adding to concerns about delays in any reforms.
The department said the researchers would meet, survey, record and measure the lived experiences of disabled people.
And it denied that there had been any steps taken to delay action, suggesting that both the consultation and the research were designed only to improve the provision of accessible housing.
MHCLG said the research would cover both homes and non-domestic buildings, and will collect up-to-date data of relevance across government, in the interests of disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.
Earlier this month, DNS reported how ministers were set to spend £30 million on projects across England that could lead to more than 17,000 new homes, but were refusing to insist that a single one of them was built to strict accessibility standards.
The GMCDP working group said that a commitment to build 17,000 accessible new homes “would contribute significantly to addressing the current shortage and would support disabled people to live independent lives, so we find the information in your article truly shocking”.
They added: “GMCDP would support any campaign to encourage the Government to publicise the outcome of their consultation.”
Successive Tory ministers have been repeatedly warned of the dire shortage of suitable accessible housing.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…