Higher accessibility standards for new housing could help deliver up to 300,000 new accessible and adaptable homes every year – as the government acknowledges accommodation “injustices” endured by the disabled.
Recognising that too many disabled people still live in unsuitable homes, the government will consult on mandating higher accessibility standards for new housing.
Councils will also get guidance to help meet current standards for accessible housing.
In one of her last policy initiatives as prime minister, Theresa May has announced a new cross-government disability team and Equalities Hub to “break down barriers faced by the disabled”.
Incorporating the Office for Disability Issues, the new team will sit alongside the Government Equalities Office and Race Disparity Unit in the Hub at the heart of government.
The team is intended to work closely with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and charities to develop a new approach to disability, with their views and experiences at the forefront of any new policy.
Housing is a key element of new policy drive, with May committing the government to consultation on mandating higher accessibility standards for new homes that could, she said, deliver up to 300,000 new accessible and adaptable homes every year.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said too many of the homes built in the past have not lived up to meeting the “everyday needs” of whoever lives in them.
“Which is why we’re looking very closely at strengthening accessibility requirements, including making them mandatory for all new homes,” he said.
The policy drive also commits the DWP – vilified over its treatment of the disabled – to a Green Paper on improving support for those on disability benefits and “extensive” engagement with disability organisations and charities.
“Today’s announcement is a significant one for disabled people and addressing the inequalities they face,” said Richard Kramer, Chief Executive for the disability charity Sense.
“For too long now, disability policy has been focused on what benefits or services disabled people do or don’t access, rather than the lives they want, and have a right to lead.”
He continued: “Equality for disabled people is everyone’s business and cuts across all areas of policy and life, which is why we have been calling for and welcome this new cross government approach.
“We know that today is just the beginning of the journey, but we look forward to working with the government as this work takes shape, and ensuring it is led by and centres around disabled people to truly deliver meaningful change,” he said.
Scope chief executive Mark Hodgkinson said: “We have long-called for a concerted effort from government to improve the lives of disabled people in this country. It is therefore positive to see recognition from government that a joined-up approach is needed and necessary.”
David Isaac, Equality and Human Rights Commission chair, said addressing key issues such as housing so the disabled can live independently in their communities requires a joined-up strategy.
“The creation of a cross-government team to coordinate disability policy is a bold statement from the government to tackle these problems and a very welcome move,” he said.
“It will help ensure the views of disabled people are better represented at the heart of government and will create a more coherent approach to improve the daily lives of millions of disabled people across the country.”
Habinteg have been campaigning to increase the regulatory baseline for all new homes to the accessible adaptable standard since 2015 when the government introduced ‘optional access standards’ into building regulations.
The organisation’s recent Insight report showed that only 43% of local plans contained specific requirements to deliver any new homes to the optional standards, with forecast of just 23% of new homes outside London to be built to accessible standards by 2030.
“Our recent accessible homes forecast revealed that less than half of all planning authorities have set requirements for new homes to meet higher accessibility standards, said Habinteg CEO Sheron Carter.
“Setting a national policy would not only create a level playing field and more certainty for developers, it would help shift the focus of planning at an authority level to ensure that a sufficient number of new homes are suitable for wheelchair users to live in.
“Currently only 7% of homes in England have even the most basic access features so we really need all new housing to offer good levels of accessibility and adaptability if we’re to get anywhere near meeting the needs of our whole population – too many disabled and older people are making do in homes that are just not suitable for them,” she said.
Catherine Foot, Director of Evidence, Centre for Ageing Better said older people and those with a disability are at a serious disadvantage in the housing market with just 7% of homes meeting basic accessibility criteria.
“Delivering enough accessible homes and future proofing our housing stock will mean changing regulations so local authority planners and private developers are required to build homes everyone can live in.
“Now is the time for action, very few affordable and accessible houses are being built each year,” she said.