Housing and the disabled

It’s well established that the UK is facing a housing crisis – but within the overall picture of too many people chasing not enough homes there’s another, more neglected crisis: disabled people are struggling to find accommodation that properly caters to their needs.

Earlier this month the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a lengthy report on this, assessing that 93% of 8.5 million rental properties in the UK were inaccessible to those with disabilities. In an 18-month review it found that 365,000 disabled people were in unsuitable homes that lacked the facilities they needed.

As often the case the law is clear, but imprecise. The 2010 Equality Act says that adjustments to property need to be made to make sure that a disabled person can access it, and that the cost of this should not be borne by the disabled person. But here’s the catch: adjustments only have to be made if it is reasonable; there is only a duty to do so, if not doing so places the disabled person at a substantial disadvantage. Plenty of room for fudge here.

The debate has moved on and it’s no longer acceptable for the needs of the disabled to be overlooked. For one thing, according to the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, everyone has the right to “an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate housing.” But it has not moved far enough.

According to the EHCR, disabled people in the UK are demoralised and frustrated by the housing system; the amount of accessible homes is far too low; putting the right facilities into homes is a tangle of unacceptable bureaucracy; and disabled people are not getting the support that they need to live independently. The EHCR says that a third of disable people in private rented properties, 20% in social housing, and one in seven in their own homes are living in “unsuitable accommodation.”

Prejudices against disabled people in the workplace are diminishing, not as fast as we would hope for, but this largely hidden problem of finding suitable accommodation has yet to make itself felt among the wider public. Here at 3SC our various programmes to help the disabled find work have been a great success and we aim to do more to highlight the fact that work and life – employment and housing – are inextricably linked.

Without a settled, secure, long-term and disability-proofed place to live, it’s much harder to go out and find employment, and vice versa. The EHRC report contains several recommendations but one is unsaid – the really important step in providing housing for disabled will be to acknowledge that this is no longer a minority or special-interest group issue. When people are unfairly disadvantaged in our society it’s everyone’s problem – and everyone can benefit if it gets solved.