Aspire is calling on Government to heed the words of spinal cord injured people and their families and take action to deliver a future for the thousands in England waiting for a wheelchair accessible home.

Research published by Aspire today reveals the desperate conditions faced by spinal injured people and their families, forced to live in unsuitable housing.  The independent study, undertaken by Loughborough University, The health and wellbeing of spinal cord injured adults and the family: examining lives in adapted and unadapted homes, draws upon the personal accounts of spinal injured people and those closest to them.

Without the kind of basic access features and adaptations included as standard in an Aspire property – such as level access throughout, adequately wide doorways, enough space to turn a wheelchair in all rooms, accessible bathroom, kitchen and bedrooms – unadapted homes  simply prevent spinal injured people from living. One partner of a spinal injured research participant shared:. “This damn house isn’t fit for him, us.  We are both often prisoners in it and it’s difficult.  Maybe not nice for people to visit. Who really wants to pop around for a cup of tea and sit in a lounge with a commode in it, with your husband’s bed in it, and all this equipment…”  

Unadapted housing also robs people of basic dignity and compromises personal hygiene:    “I can’t shower here…It’s like me saying to you; for a whole year you’re not going to have a shower at home.  You’ve got to go to the swimming baths and have a shower there.”    

Spinal injured people spend many weeks in a Spinal Cord Injury Centre (SCIC), learning how to manage and maintain good physical health, but unadapted homes don’t just prevent people from making progress, they actually reverse what they have  achieved: “Because of the house, I’ve lost all my muscle mass that I built up in rehab.  My health is going downhill, physically and mentally.”  

For many of the research participants, having to live in unsuitable conditions led to feelings of despair, anger and depression: “It’s depressing living in here.  Like this.  In a house that doesn’t meet my basic needs… I’m at rock bottom.”    The most shocking fact exposed by the research is that for 30% of participants, these feelings led to thoughts of suicide: “Living here is no better than living in a prison, but I’ve done nothing wrong, but I’m punished anyway. I sit here during the day or night seriously thinking, why not just end it, why not.”

These findings are horrendous enough. But when you consider that around 24,000 wheelchair users in England are in urgent need of wheelchair accessible social or affordable housing the true scale of the problem becomes both scandalous and unacceptable. This is the picture uncovered by Aspire in our 2014 Freedom of Information investigation.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.  The research also shows how when living in suitable accommodation, spinal injured people flourish: Research participant Boris sums it up this way: “I’ve had the thoughts in my head a few times that I’ve wanted to top myself. The thought has been there before when I lived in a house that wasn’t adapted. My mentality is a lot better now than what it was in the old house. I’m absolutely loving this place.  And now because of moving in here I have a future.”  Aspire wants everyone needing a wheelchair accessible home to look forward to such a future.

Working with Parliamentarians, disability and planning organisations, Aspire is calling on government, nationally and locally, to start taking this issue seriously.   We have put forward an amendment to the Housing and Planning bill, currently going through Parliament, to require all local authorities to accurately assess the level of need for wheelchair accessible homes and set appropriate targets in their local development plans.  The Town and Country Planning Association is supporting Aspire and is carrying an article for us in the latest edition of its Journal.

On behalf of the thousands of people in urgent need of a wheelchair accessible home for themselves and their family, Aspire urges you to support our amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Written by Andy Shipley, Aspire's Policy Manager, email: andrew.shipley@aspire.org.uk