Following the controversy over George Osbourne’s planned £4.4billion of welfare cuts targeted at people with disabilities, issues of fairness and access for the disabled community have been brought back into the spotlight. Although changes to Personal Independence Payments have now been shelved following a public outcry, disabled people still face immense difficulty in living their lives comfortably and independently.
Housing has become a defining policy issue for the London Mayoral candidates, as spiralling house prices, rising rents, and a substantial lack of supply, take their toll on London’s 8.6 million residents. However, the issue of finding affordable and suitable housing becomes even more acute for the 14%, or over 1 million Londoners, who identify themselves as disabled.
With the London Mayoral election fast approaching, TheHouseShop.com’s Franki Chaffin-Edwards spoke exclusively to the 2016 London Mayoral candidates to find out how disabled-access and accessibility fit into their plans for the future of London’s housing market.
Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, has put housing at the forefront of his campaign, stating: “I’m making the Mayoral election a referendum on the housing crisis, and if I’m elected, I’ll set up a dedicated team in City Hall on day one, called Homes for Londoners, who’ll crack on with building the homes we need as a city, including those accessible for people with disabilities.”
Mr Khan was asked if he would commit to maintaining the accessible housing policies brought in by his political rival Boris Johnson as part of the London Plan, to which he replied “It’s really important that the new homes we build for Londoners are not only accessible financially, but accessible for those with disabilities. I’ll make sure, as Mayor, that all new developments are built to Lifetime Homes standard and 1 in 10 of all new units are wheelchair accessible”.
Sadiq’s commitment to maintain the London Plan policies put in place by Boris Johnson is significant, as this will require all new build developments to be built to Lifetime Homes standard (a set of inclusive design principles) and 10% of all units to be fully wheelchair accessible.
Sadiq was not alone in this commitment, as both Sian Berry and Caroline Pidgeon also pledged to maintain and improve the existing London Plan policies with regards to accessible housing.
It will be interesting to see whether the candidates can keep their promises once in office, as the Conservative government have already made significant changes to the classification and regulation of new build accessible housing, raising concerns that these valuable policies could be scrapped for good.
Green Party candidate, Sian Berry, was most vocal in her desire to go above and beyond the existing legislation, stating: “The London Plan provides us with a starting point for improving the stock of accessible housing, but I also believe that we can be much bolder and in Camden I have put forward proposals for new developments to meet Lifetime Neighbourhoods principles, which are a wider set of standards aimed at ensuring local areas are welcoming and accessible to older people and people with disabilities in other ways – for example through green space, digital inclusion facilities and ensuring services are located within communities.”
Ms Berry also welcomed the fresh attempt by TheHouseShop to raise the issue of disabled-access housing following the publication of their report 'Accessible Housing Policies Failing in Practice', saying “We really welcome this report from TheHouseShop because it demonstrates the urgent need for action to ensure that these existing plans are being implemented to the benefit of London’s disabled community.
Across so many areas of policy we see that the letter of the law – designed to improve the lives of people – is not being implemented simply because staff are not being trained or taught about these important pieces of legislation. That’s not the fault of the staff delivering front-line services, but it does mean that people end up not having their rights respected.”
Liberal Democrat candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, was quick to point out the inevitable growth in demand for accessible and adaptable properties, commenting:
“We should take heed of the wise words of Alf Morris, the UK’s first disability minister, who quite rightly highlighted how some form of disability could face nearly all of us in old age, when he bluntly stated: “die young or join the club”.
Caroline also echoed Sian Berry’s thoughts on the need to go above and beyond existing legislation, stating: “However these policies, while vital, are not alone sufficient. TheHouseShop has provided a valuable service in drawing attention to the specific problems relating to the poor marketing of accessible homes. It is, for example, quite unacceptable that sales representatives don’t even understand the basic difference between Lifetime Homes (which are built to be easily adaptable) and homes that are already wheelchair accessible.
Accessibility of properties should be seen as a selling point, yet at present it seems far too many staff involved in the process are poorly informed and unable to match the needs of disabled people with the accessible properties that are now being built for their use.”
It is certainly encouraging to see London’s potential future leaders affirm their commitment to accessible and adaptable housing for disabled residents.
However, more will need to be done to ensure that people with disabilities have access to affordable and suitable housing that allows them to live independently, as TheHouseShop’s Franki Chaffin-Edwards explains “Despite some forward thinking policies from the Mayor’s Office, the reality of the situation for thousands of disabled residents is dire. We speak to people every day who are looking to buy, sell and rent accessible or adaptable homes, and I have been shocked by some of the horror stories we have heard. When we spoke to Paralympic athlete Hannah Cockroft last year about her housing experience, she explained the daily struggles of living in a home that you can’t move around safely, commenting “I slipped and fell so many times, it was amazing I never seriously injured myself!”.
“It is excellent to see that the Mayoral candidates are committed to continuing the accessible housing policies laid out in the London Plan, but we believe that the time has come to impose new national regulation for the provision of higher quality, accessible homes, so that disabled people can live with independence and dignity no matter where they are in the UK.”
“The success of these policies in London will contribute crucial evidence to the case for national regulation, and whoever comes into power following the election could be instrumental in improving housing access for all.”
With increasing deregulation at central government level, the winner of the Mayoral election will be instrumental in determining the future of accessible housing for London’s disabled community. But while the future for London’s accessible housing market seems bright, the same cannot necessarily be said for the rest of the UK, so we must continue to strive for a housing market that works for everyone.