MPs hear of government’s failures on accessible housing


A parliamentary inquiry has been told of the government’s failure to deal with the severe shortage of accessible housing, and other problems disabled people continue to face in accessing the built environment.

The women and equalities committee yesterday (Wednesday) published written evidence it has received from more than 150 individuals and organisations as part of its ongoing disability and the built environment inquiry.

Much of this written evidence has come from disabled people and their organisations.

Bristol Disability Equality Forum told the committee that evidence “strongly suggests that the Government is failing to take adequate notice of current and future needs for accessible homes into account in its policies on increasing housing supply”. 

Inclusion London told the committee that low-cost accessible housing was “in short supply”.

It warned that disabled people were “falling into serious debt because of the heavy cost of adaptations needed to make their homes accessible”. 

It called for every local authority to be forced to maintain an accessible housing register which would also record how many disabled people were waiting for accessible social housing.

And it called for all new homes to be built to the Lifetime Homes standard, with 10 per cent of all homes to be built to full wheelchair accessibility standards.

Equal Lives, a disabled people’s organisation in Norfolk, told the committee: “Accessible and affordable accommodation that facilitates independent living is difficult and sometimes impossible to find.

“The lack of in-built accessibility features means people spend large amounts of time and money to make things accessible for themselves.”

It warned that laws around accessibility were “not understood or implemented effectively” and that “too often the burden of implementation is put directly on disabled people”.

Gosport Access Group and Disability Forum said there were “serious pressures on accessible housing supply in some parts of the borough”, while in allocation of social housing, people’s accessibility needs were “over-ridden” by the need to provide some kind of roof over their head, which often resulted in them being placed in unsuitable accommodation.

It said that government policy was “geared towards promoting development, without much scrutiny of either the quality or accessibility of new buildings”.

Disability Stockport told the committee that private landlords were “exempt” from having to provide accessible rented accommodation, or improve access to the common areas of buildings in multiple ownership, which “results in many people becoming prisoners in houses they rent or even own”.

The Access Association – many of whose members are local authority access officers or access consultants – said in its evidence that government policy on accessible housing, and the number of accessible properties available, were “inadequate, inconsistent and need to be improved”.

It called for the Equality Act to be amended so that it was not disabled people’s responsibility to enforce their right to an accessible and inclusive built environment.

Leicester Disabled People’s Access Group warned that access in the city was deteriorating.

In its written evidence to the committee, it said that “while previously we worked for improvement in existing and new built environment, the group now feels it is struggling to prevent deterioration in access within the city – a situation we find unacceptable in 21st Century Britain”.

Independent Lives, a user-led disability organisation based in West Sussex and Hampshire, said disabled people were “not consulted with often enough in the decision making process around the built environment”.

It added: “Government and building regulators need to realise the importance of listening to the voices of disabled people when planning and building community spaces.”

Darlington Association on Disability said that accessibility appeared to be “looked upon as a problem that designers consider last, which results in poor accessible design”, while it was “also the first thing that designers look at when looking for ways to reduce costs”.

In its evidence to the committee, Stirling Access Panel said that planning permission for new and modified buildings was “repeatedly” granted by its local council even though those buildings contained “designed barriers” that made it “impossible for disabled people to use them or live in them”.

Cllr Douglas Johnson, a Green member of Sheffield City Council, former equality rights supervisor at Sheffield Law Centre, and now with discrimination law experts Unity Law, said he believed that council planning officers needed stronger powers to tackle developers that failed to offer accessible design in their buildings.

Many submissions to the committee came from blind and partially-sighted people, and their organisations, raising concerns about the growing number of shared space street developments.

Lord Holmes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner, providing evidence in a personal capacity, said he had been campaigning against shared space schemes.

He said he “strongly” believed that such schemes “cause barriers for blind and other pedestrians by removing safety features and excluding people from the public realm”.

Inclusion Scotland said it had “serious concerns over the implications of the Shared Surface and Shared Space design for disabled, blind and partially sighted people”.

Mike Brace, former chair of ParalympicsGB, said that shared space schemes were “dangerous”.

He also told the committee that pavement areas were “increasingly becoming hazardous and difficult to navigate”.

He said: “As a guide dog user for the past six years, and a white cane user for 50 years prior to that, I have been acutely aware of how difficult it has become to navigate safely and independently throughout London. 

“One of the main reasons for getting a guide dog after 50 years of using a cane, was the deterioration in the built environment, especially pavement areas and street maintenance.”

Angela Cavill-Burch, from Peterborough, submitted evidence about the problems she and her husband – who uses an electric wheelchair – had faced in trying to find safe, accessible housing.

She said they had been “living in a very dangerous situation since 2009, and seem to only hit brick walls whenever we try to help ourselves”, and had only had three inappropriate properties to look at from the council’s housing list since 2010.

She said: “Having looked at list after list it is quite obvious that Peterborough does not have any specialised housing stock for disabled people who have such substantial needs that they have care workers on site for much of the day.”

Cavill-Burch said that she repeatedly sees new bungalows being built with “absolutely no regard to accessibility”.

She added: “I see stepped accesses, narrow corridors, tiny rooms. Everything to prevent an electric wheelchair user from buying or renting that property.”

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