Disabled Brits are being forced to move across the country from their family and support networks due to a national shortage of accessible homes.
Among the cases brought to light by The Mail on Sunday is a 52-year-old man with a spinal cord injury who had to close his business when he had no choice but to move to a bungalow more than 100 miles from his home in Essex.
And a 28-year-old woman with learning disabilities and a history of self-harm who required 24-hour care was moved from Birmingham, where she lived with her family, to Hertfordshire.
Now her residential care center is threatened with closure and she is in danger of being shunted to Scotland. The disturbance has made her increasingly anxious and her caretakers fear she is a danger to herself.
Meanwhile, a severely disabled boy is traumatized after his parents faced a move from London to Birmingham, which forced him away from his special education primary school.
“The school provided everything for this child: personal care and education,” said Jo Underwood, a lawyer with the Shelter charity involved in the case.
UPHEAVAL: Mary and Mike Nevin had to move to an accessible house on the other side of England
Mr and Mrs Nevin had moved over 500 miles from their home in Taunton, Somerset to new premises in Hartlepool, County Durham
“There was nothing like that near the new house. Not to mention the trauma of being valued separately from the family that cared for him.”
After lengthy legal proceedings, Shelter helped the family stop the move.
About 1.9 million Britons with disabilities want their homes to be accessible – with ramps, railings, wide door frames and downstairs shower rooms – so they can move around safely. About 1.2 million of these are wheelchair users, according to figures from the NHS.
If a disabled person is in a home that is no longer safe to live in because of his/her needs, he/she will be placed on a waiting list for an accessible council home or residential care center. A small number may choose to hunt, rent or buy on their own property. In all cases, the offer is scanty.
Outside of London, only 1.5 percent of homes built over the next ten years will be suitable for a wheelchair user, according to housing association Habinteg.
The government does not have data on the current proportion of homes that can be occupied by wheelchair users, but housing experts think it is about two percent.
Ms Underwood says: ‘People with disabilities are on waiting lists for years, in homes where their wheelchairs won’t fit through the door, or where there’s no toilet or bathroom to get in, so they have to use their kitchen.’
She describes people struggling in Dickensian conditions, forced to make ends meet in a single room because the rest of their home is inaccessible.
She adds: “If something pops up, it could be hundreds of miles away, so they have no choice but to move. It means that children have to change schools and that the family loses the support of local nurses and carers, as well as family.
“In some cases, family and friends nearby are the caretakers – and without them they’re stranded.”
As for the private rental market, she adds, “The few that are suitable are not affordable for most people with disabilities.”
Last week, the government announced plans to strengthen minimum accessibility standards for new housing projects.
Under the proposed legislation, they must have barrier-free access to all ground floor rooms, and bathrooms and stairwells must have walls robust enough to withstand the installation of handrails or stair lifts.
But according to Habinteg’s analysis, more than half of the homes built over the next ten years will not meet these standards.
A regional breakdown seen by The Mail on Sunday points to striking differences. In some parts of the UK, such as the West Midlands, less than one per cent of new homes built between 2020 and 2030 will be suitable for a wheelchair user. In London it is 7.5 percent.
A third of the new housing stock in the south east will be wheelchair accessible, with downstairs bathrooms and wide floor space, but in Yorkshire this is not the case for more than nine out of ten homes.
Disabled adults lonelier than non-disabled adults
One in seven adults with disabilities report feeling lonely ‘often or always’ – four times as many as non-disabled people.
“It’s a very fragmented picture,” said Christina McGill, director of social impact at Habinteg.
‘Many municipalities do not take the disabled into account when planning new homes.’
Daniel Slade, 52, fell victim to the problem in June 2018 when he sustained a blood vessel in his spine that left him paralyzed from the waist down.
At the time, the avid sailor lived in Southend-on-Sea and ran a successful design business.
After being in hospital for three months, doctors said he was ready to be discharged, but because he had lived on a houseboat that didn’t fit his wheelchair, he had to stay on the ward. The municipality declared him homeless and put him on a waiting list for a wheelchair-friendly home.
In November, a spot became available – more than 100 miles from home in Northamptonshire, in a care home for the elderly.
‘I had no choice. I remember thinking: if I don’t accept this, I’ll be out on the street,” Daniel says.
Two years later, Northamptonshire County Council found a suitable bungalow in nearby Kettering, with a downstairs shower room and wide corridors.
Daniel adds: ‘I am very isolated here and if I get sick or have to go to the hospital, there is no one to help.’
Mike Nevin, 61, was in a similar situation. The former product manager from Taunton, Somerset, suffers from a rare genetic disease called syringomyelia, which causes progressive loss of function in the arms and legs.
In 2018, Mike and his wife Mary were living on their two-bedroom Victorian patio when Mike’s health deteriorated and he was unable to walk.
“We bought the house at a time when I was more mobile,” Mike says.
“I didn’t expect to be in a wheelchair full-time. I couldn’t get through the narrow hallway to go to the toilet, and my seat didn’t fit through the front door either.
“I found myself spending most days in bed, in the living room, not because I wasn’t feeling well, but because it wasn’t physically possible to get anywhere.”
While Mary was away most days to care for her 92-year-old father, Mike became dependent on friends from a local church group for support and to supply essentials.
There is a national shortage of homes that are accessible to people with disabilities, with waiting lists of years
He says: ‘We looked to see if we could buy something more suitable, but there wasn’t anything we could afford in the area, or even in neighboring towns, that was wide enough for my wheelchair or easily adaptable. The first house we found in our price range was in Hartlepool, over 500 miles away. We never expected to go this far.’
Miles away from his life felt like “losing an arm,” he says. “Our kids live in the US, so we had built a large group of friends and extended family in Taunton, and it’s heartbreaking to leave that.”
The existing housing stock in the UK is ‘largely inadequate’ for the majority of disabled people, says Ms McGill.
“We have some of the oldest homes in Europe, most of which were built decades before anyone started thinking about the needs of the disabled. While some changes, such as installing railings, are possible with strong walls, other essentials – such as widening hallways and turning bedrooms into shower rooms – aren’t always easy.”
Alexa Woodcock, a 48-year-old teacher from Chester, has waited a year for her community to fund the installation of a downstairs bathroom for her disabled son.
Finlay, 16, has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair dependent, uses a pan in the kitchen and sleeps in the living room.
“The council found properties for me that were miles from the area, but that wasn’t an option as my mother and sister are nearby and are helping to care for Finlay,” she says.
Alexa, who has two other children, applied for a disability grant — municipal funding for home modifications and equipment — to pay for the new bathroom and an extension that would give Finlay a downstairs bedroom. But she was denied the extension and told to wait at least 18 months for the bathroom.
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“For the first five months I carried Finlay up and down the stairs and injured my back,” Alexa says. ‘We now have a temporary stairlift, but he can’t always use it alone. The council’s response was to ask my other 14-year-old son to help.’
Campaigners have also warned against people with intellectual disabilities being placed in residential homes far from their loved ones.
According to the charity Mencap, some 22,000 people with intellectual disabilities live in housing outside their municipal area.
Analysis by the charity also found that 82 percent of local authorities say there is a shortage of housing for people with learning disabilities.
Last month, St Elizabeth’s care home in Hertfordshire announced it could close in November, leaving the 83 vulnerable adults living there in need of housing.
After the residents’ families sent a legal letter to bosses last week, they agreed to allow a consultation period before the closure goes through.
“We’re far from out of the woods – there’s a good chance the house will close,” a family member told The Mail on Sunday.
One resident is Renee Faragher, 28, who suffers up to five seizures a day and requires 24-hour care. She had been placed in a bungalow in St Elizabeth – moved there from Birmingham, 120 miles away.
“There was absolutely nothing around,” says her mother, Linda, 60.
“It was a complete revolution for her. She had never left us, not even for one night. She was angry and didn’t understand why she had to be so far away.
“She can harm herself if she feels lonely and frustrated.”
When St. Elizabeth’s closes, Linda can face an even longer round trip to see her daughter.
‘I haven’t heard anything from the municipality about a new place,’ she says.
‘I’ve checked with private providers and the only one that has a place is in Scotland.
“I don’t think any of us could handle that.”