Tracy bought her home as it was the most accessible property she could find located close to where her brother lives. She felt that, with some adaptation, it would give her independence and enable her to visit her brother regularly.

Tracy in her wheelchair in doorway

At the point of purchase, Tracy was under the impression that grant funding for its adaptation would only take three months. So although not initially ideal, Tracy felt a short period of inaccessibility would be tolerable, given the improved family life and independence she would gain in the long run. It has now been a year since Tracey moved in and she has no idea how much longer it will take for her adaptations to materialise. Tracey’s experience mirrors those described in the research report we published earlier this year: “The health and wellbeing of spinal cord injured adults and the family: Examining lives in adapted and unadapted homes”.

Watch the film of Tracey in her inaccessible home:

Tracy’s story highlights two systemic failures. Firstly, the failure of our planning system to deliver an adequate supply of accessible and adaptable housing that forced Tracey into the position of having to sacrifice accessibility in the “short” term for the support and improved family life offered by living close to her brother. Secondly, an opaque adaptations grant system that fails to respond to people’s needs in a timely and appropriate manner.

Tracey looking out the window

Aspire’s 2014 Freedom of Information investigation found that around 24,000 households were waiting for wheelchair accessible homes in the social sector. Research just published by Habinteg and Papworth Trust reveals that of the 1.8 million households requiring an accessible home, 56% are home owners. So that would suggest that there are significantly more than 24,000 households seeking wheelchair accessible homes to buy. Despite this, we are not seeing these homes being planned by local authorities, even in areas where new homes are being built in significant numbers.

This means that many disabled people, like Tracy, are forced to try and make the best of the home they have by having it adapted. For those without the means to pay for the adaptations themselves, a Disabled Facilities Grant is the only hope. Many of the cases Aspire’s Housing Team supports are people living in limbo, in a Spinal Injury Centre unable to be discharged or trapped in an inaccessible home, because of the slowness and unpredictability of the grant funding process.

Tracey in her wheelchair trying to manouvre around her house

In a response to the latest Parliamentary question about the Government’s strategy for housing disabled people, the newly appointed Minister for Communities and Local Government, Gavin Barwell, repeated the answer so often iterated by his predecessor, that the number of homes for disabled people is a matter for “individual local planning authorities to decide”. In time honoured tradition, he went on to talk about the £1 billion invested in DFGs since 2010 and 2,000 specialist homes Government is funding. This of course is very important and most welcome. However with the level of need that has been revealed by Aspire and most recently Habinteg and Papworth Trust, these measures are a bit of a sticking plaster over an ever-widening wound.

Aspire has found that in many local authorities, at the rates at which wheelchair accessible homes have been let in recent years, families that need them will be waiting for at least 10 years and in some cases indefinitely. Analysis of Government data on housing completions reveals that even in some local authority areas where significant numbers of new homes are being completed each year, no meaningful impact is being made on wheelchair housing waiting lists. It is clear therefore, that housing need for disabled people just isn’t being adequately addressed in many local plans.

Tracy in her wheelchair on ramp

In August, the Women and Equality Committee launched an inquiry into disability and the built environment. On behalf of the many thousands of disabled people like Tracey, forced to endure intolerable living conditions for years on end, Aspire urges the Women and Equality Committee to keenly press the Government to take responsibility for addressing this shameful problem. Without a national plan for accessible homes to drive up supply in all parts of the country, the pressure on the DFG and health and social care services will become unsustainable. Disabled people like Tracey will face even greater uncertainty about when, if ever, they will be able to enjoy a home that enables them to lead a fulfilling independent life and contribute to the economy and society.

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