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Our City, Our Say!

Difference North East is holding a meeting to gather opinions from disabled people across the region. They are currently talking to Newcastle City Council about their ‘Newcastle 2030’ recovery plans. Difference want them to make Newcastle the best city in the North for disabled people to live and work. Difference want them to know what needs to change to make this a reality.

Access and inclusion should be a top priority for local authorities, so we want to find out;

• What stops you from being able to enjoy your city/town?

• What changes would make the biggest difference for you? Please meet with them to share ideas and experiences and to make sure disabled people’s voices are heard.

When? They are holding the meeting twice, so you can choose which one to attend:

• Wednesday 28th July at 18:30-20:00

• Thursday 29th July at 10:30-12:00 (BSL Interpreted)

Please register to attend on their event page: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/our-city-our-say-tickets-162678653231?utm_campaign=post_publish&utm_medium=email&utm_source=eventbrite&utm_content=shortLinkNewEmail

Wednesday 21st July 2021

Ministers ignore accessible housing while spending millions on thousands of new homes

Ministers are to spend £30 million on projects across England that could lead to more than 17,000 new homes, but they are refusing to insist that a single one of them is built to strict accessibility standards.

Despite announcing funding for more than 160 projects, ministers have imposed no requirement for any of the housing schemes to include any accessible homes.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says the plans for better use of public land could see more than 17,000 new homes being built, with funding awarded through the Land Release Fund (LRF) and the One Public Estate programme.

But MHCLG confirmed this week to Disability News Service (DNS) that there would be no obligation for any of the projects to include a certain proportion of homes built to the M4(2) standard, which includes 16 accessible or adaptable features, or to the M4(3) standard, for homes that are fully wheelchair-accessible, or can easily be adapted to be so.

Instead, it will be left to local authorities – which set their own policies on how much new housing should be built to M4(2) and M4(3) standards in their own areas – to decide how many of the homes should be built to higher access specifications.

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool and chair of the city council’s corporate access forum, said the government’s failure showed “that the voice of developers is allowed to take precedence over the voice of disabled people”.

Disabled campaigner Fleur Perry, who has previously written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick to warn him that his failure to act on accessible housing could be unlawful, said the government’s refusal to set minimum numbers of accessible homes with the new funding was “a missed opportunity to build accessible housing”.

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “The number of accessible homes has nearly doubled in a decade and we have recently consulted on ways of improving the accessibility of new homes.

“Councils are best placed to decide how much accessible housing is needed in their area, and set these requirements in their Local Plans.”

But Perry said: “We know that 1.8 million people live in houses that do not meet their needs, and we know (from personal experience, anecdotes, and research) that this has a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of disabled people.

“We also know that some local authorities aren’t doing anything.”

She said that more than half (52 per cent) of local authorities have failed to include any accessible housing requirements in their Local Plan, which may be a breach of the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.

And she pointed out that the Equality and Human Rights Commission found in 2018 that 84 per cent of local authorities surveyed did not feel that they had good data on the number of disabled people currently inappropriately housed.

She said this cast doubt on whether local authorities really were “best placed” to choose how much of the £30 million should be used to build accessible housing.

She said: “This is an assumption, not reality, and I will be writing to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ask them to reconsider.”

A consultation on whether the government should introduce higher accessibility standards for new housing in England ended last December, with ministers yet to announce their next steps.

Perry said: “We need more accessible housing.

“It’s a key component of independent living and the lack of accessible housing is a solvable problem.

“We know that this a national issue and I think that central government need to be acting. I look forward to reading the results of last year’s consultation.”

Thomas, who has a PhD on the physical inaccessibility of homes for owner occupation, said MHCLG’s response suggested that it was “out of touch with, or doesn’t care about, the research and reality of the dire shortage of accessible and adaptable housing”.

She said that the “doubling of a totally inadequate number of accessible homes in a decade means very little”, particularly as most of them appear to be in London, which introduced stricter standards for new homes in 2004.

Ministers have been repeatedly warned about the chronic shortage of accessible housing, with the equality and human rights watchdog warning three years ago that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs, with one-third of those in rented accommodation living in unsuitable properties.

That same year, research by Disability News Service showed how representatives of the home-building industry were engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built in their areas.

Thomas said Liverpool City Council had included a requirement in its draft Local Plan several years ago that 90 per cent of all new homes should be more accessible and adaptable for people with mobility limitations and 10 per cent should be easily adaptable for wheelchair access.

The local plan “is still going through the very long statutory process to gain the approval of the government’s planning inspector”, with developers objecting to the accessible housing requirement and insisting, she said, that “the case has not been made that accessible and adaptable housing is wanted or needed”.

She said: “We have been able to get the agreement of some developers through persuasion that it need not cost them any more to use inclusive design from the design stage, but because the law does not give us the power unless the Local Plan is approved, we cannot insist if the developers refuse.”

Only last August, the government was accused of “showing contempt” for disabled people after publishing an “utterly shameful” 84-page white paper on the future of the planning system without including a single mention of disabled people, disability or accessible housing.

And in January this year, DNS revealed how ministers had delayed publishing a report that called for more research into the benefits of accessible housing for up to four years. 

Despite its latest failure to address the accessible housing crisis, the government announced that the new funding was part of its so-called “levelling up agenda”.

Some of the funding will help to create feasibility studies and design work for potential development sites, while the LRF funding will support councils to regenerate mainly brownfield sites for housing by providing capital funding for infrastructure work.

10 June 2021. News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Remote working and the return to ‘normal’

By Frances Ryan for The Guardian Opinion:

‘Tables blocking the road. Chairs over flat kerbs. Gazebos built on accessible parking. The surge in street dining since lockdown eased in England has been great for businesses, but not so much for wheelchair users and people with mobility conditions, who report being unable to get around their hometowns due to the new blockages.

Many of these people have been stuck indoors for up to a year shielding, and on their first taste of freedom are now being blocked from getting to the shops or pub. “All I want to do is go and meet my friends and have a pint,” said Katie Pennick, a campaigner and wheelchair user, recently on BBC Radio 4. It’s not your typical civil rights slogan but it characterises the crunch of so much disability politics: disabled people deserve the right to have a life like everyone else.

This sort of thoughtless planning would be frustrating at any time, but it is all the more so as we come out of a period when disability inclusion was finally given attention. At the start of the first lockdown, I reported that society was opening up to millions of disabled and chronically ill people as “virtual living” became the norm – from Zoom job interviews and streamed gigs and theatre to NHS phone appointments. But just as it took the non-disabled public to experience a dose of what disabled people have for years before access was improved, the fear is that any gains made during the pandemic will be discarded now that the wider public no longer need them themselves.

Take work for example. The shift to working at home over the past year brought new opportunities to those previously excluded from the workforce. As one woman with agoraphobia told me: “Lockdown has opened my world” – it allowed her to get a job from her front room. But as ministers and some employers push for a return to the office, many disabled workers are worried their hard-won progress will go backwards.A research scientist with endometriosis and IBS told me her employer has already stopped letting her work from home full-time, even though her job can be done remotely. “The office is ‘going back to normal’ and they don’t want us at home even though I can do a better job [here],” she said.Advertisementhttps://3c211a790ab0736a572486792c9c86b6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

The disability employment gap in the UK is vast – in 2020, the employment rate for disabled people was just 53.7%, compared with 82% for non-disabled people – and has been largely stagnant for years. Retaining flexible working is one way to address it.Such working patterns will help many others beyond disabled workers, from working parents to carers of elderly parents. Rather than being reduced in coming months, these schemes should be extended; a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that almost half of workers currently don’t have flexible working arrangements such as flexitime, part-time hours or job shares.

Or look at socialising. The Zoom pub quiz became a cliche of lockdown, but what many of us did informally with friends was also replicated by companies, with art exhibitions streaming online or bars running virtual club nights. As venues open back up, I’m hearing from scores of disabled people losing out: from the parishioner whose church’s Zoom coffee morning allowed her to speak to people from her congregation for the first time in 15 years but which has now been stopped, to the person who “went” to an LGBTQ+ club night for the first time in their life when it went online during lockdown but has now watched it close.

Too often, cultural prejudice around disability assumes disabled people don’t need the same pleasures as everyone else, but health doesn’t change who you are. As one music-loving young housebound woman shared on Twitter: “Magically, over the past year I’ve seen countless live gigs and the thought of that being taken away is devastating.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Young Vic theatre in London announced in May that it plans to livestream all of its future productions, and gym companies say online workouts are here to stay, despite the popular return of “in person” classes. This doesn’t mean good access is about moving everything online: many disabled people want face-to-face settings, and besides, the surge in virtual experiences shouldn’t let businesses off the hook from adapting physical spaces which are still too often inaccessible. It simply means that it is right to keep the option, and that we need a culture in which companies think about disabled people – and our cash – as valuable.

As we rightly celebrate a return to normal, it should be remembered that, for disabled people, “normal” too often means being excluded from everyday life. Anyone who has felt the pang of missing nights with mates in the pub over the past year can empathise and support disabled people being restricted and isolated now. If you spot a restaurant blocking a wheelchair entrance, tweet a photo and tag your local council. If your employer is rolling back flexible working rights, talk to your union (or join one).

Attempts to gain access for disabled people are often met with pushback: it’s too much trouble, too expensive or simply unnecessary. And yet lockdown showed that sweeping changes can be made practically overnight with little fuss. The question is, if it was done for non-disabled people then, why not disabled people now?’

Originally published by Frances Ryan for The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jun/02/remote-working-disabled-people-back-to-normal-disability-inclusion