Disabled people in Britain face a hidden housing crisis, charity warns

Disabled people are experiencing a hidden housing crisis, says a new report suggesting that many are having to wash in their kitchens and sleep in their living rooms because their homes are ill-designed for their needs.

The charity Leonard Cheshire Disability claims that as many as five million people now need a disabled-friendly home, a number set to rise as the population ages. A survey for the charity’s Home Truths campaign finds that almost three-quarters of people with mobility problems do not have an accessible door into their building. More than half say their buildings do not have doors and hallways wide enough for a wheelchair.

The report cites the example of Sue Frier, 52, a wheelchair user. Unable to get upstairs, she has been confined to the ground floor of her house, sleeping in her lounge and washing at her kitchen sink. Once a week she pays £30 to have a bath at a Leonard Cheshire care home. She cannot use her garden because her housing association refuses to provide a ramp.

“Not adapting homes condemns people to the misery of Victorian strip washes and ultimately possibly to leaving their homes and incurring massive care costs, when they would prefer to live independently,” said Clare Pelham, the charity’s chief executive.Of those people with mobility problems, more than half say they find it difficult to sleep in their bedrooms, while one in five say they find it very difficult to use their stairs.

Another case study featured in the report is that of “Elizabeth”, who has multiple sclerosis and is unable to use the stairs in her house and was only able to move home after receiving advice from a solicitor. “I waited nine years for suitable housing,” she said. “Being washed in the kitchen is no fun.”

Leonard Cheshire Disability is calling for all new homes to be built to “Lifetime Homes Standards”, with wider doors and walls strong enough to take grab-rails. It also wants 10% of all new homes to have full wheelchair accessibility standards and a commitment from all political parties that any new settlements, such as the planned garden cities, are built with disabled-friendly housing.

The number of disabled people in the UK has risen from 10.1 million in 2003 to 12.2 million in 2013. There are currently around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, a number is expected to increase.

A recent report by Habinteg and South Bank University estimated that there was an unmet housing need for wheelchair users in England of almost 80,000 homes.