We talk a lot about how many homes there are in the UK. We know we urgently need to build more affordable homes in the right locations because they’re essential for a balanced, productive and happy society. But we talk a lot less about what kind of homes we need to build.
We need to think much more about the ‘liveability’ of the homes we are building – are they meeting the needs of everyone in our society? In the UK, five million people have a mobility problem, and there are simply not enough suitable homes which are accessible and ‘disabled-friendly’.
With minimal regulation in the housing sector, the constant drive to increase profits means that new homes in the UK are the smallest in Europe with an average floor space of 76 square metres compared to 137 square metres in Denmark, which tops the table.
This doesn’t just mean we have less space to hang our clothes, stack our books and entertain our friends – it also means that 95 per cent of homes in the UK are inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair.
Poor quality housing is a risk for all of us. We have an ageing population and every year, more than 800,000 of us become disabled as a result of an accident, a progressive health condition or a sudden illness. When this happens many people’s homes can become a prison.
Very often disabled people’s houses can’t be adapted to meet their needs. Grab rails, stairlifts and wet rooms can’t be installed because they aren’t built to the right standards – the stairs aren’t wide enough, the walls aren’t strong enough and there’s not enough space for a wheelchair to turn.
As a result, those who can get through their front door – and many wheelchair users can’t – face having to sleep in their living room, wash in their kitchen sink and use a commode in the hallway.
There are at least 300,000 disabled people trapped on housing waiting lists across Great Britain waiting to get out of their desperate situations but unfortunately there is nowhere for them to go because we aren’t building the right types of homes to meet a growing demand.
Inaccessible housing isn’t just an unfortunate inconvenience. When people’s homes aren’t accessible it’s often dangerous for them to live in them. People risk slipping in bathrooms without grab rails and hoists, falling down stairs with no stair lift or scalding themselves in kitchens where they can’t reach the kettle properly. Poor housing costs the health service around £600 million every year.
We must act now to ensure the homes we build today are fit for tomorrow.
That’s why I’m supporting Leonard Cheshire Disability’s call for national government to make Lifetime Homes the minimum standards for all new-builds by 2020 and to ensure that 10% of new homes are fully wheelchair-accessible.
Homes built to Lifetime Homes standards are pre-loaded with accessible features – level access to the property, wider doors to ensure that wheelchairs can pass through, stronger walls so that grab rails and hoists can be installed and a bathroom at entry level.
Investing in disabled-friendly housing makes sense. It helps disabled people to live with dignity, reduces pressure on the NHS and care services and means disabled people can make the same choices as everyone else about where to live and work.
We need to build more than one million homes over the next decade, and it’s essential that big developers don’t stand in the way of them being one million disabled-friendly homes.
Not only do we need more homes, but we need these to be the right homes for all.