I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in this care home, until I end up like these old people. That’s the truth. I’ve no future now. They put all that effort into rehab, and spend loads of money getting me back into society, and then I’m dumped in here. I’ve lost most of what I learnt in rehab. What hope do I have now? I can’t see any.” - Arnold

Every eight hours in the UK, someone is paralysed by a spinal cord injury; there’s no warning, no time to prepare, and no cure for the damage done. Most properties in the UK simply aren’t wheelchair accessible, so it’s no surprise that many people who sustain a spinal cord injury cannot return to their own home. Instead, they face a frantic struggle to find a new, suitable place to live. Most, like Arnold, won’t succeed.

Social housing exists to provide a safe, affordable home to those who need it and should prevent the need for interim stays in care homes or other unsuitable accommodation. But research just released by Aspire shows that wheelchair users are facing unacceptably long delays in accessing social housing.

“I’ve been working since I was 15 years old, full time work all my life to give me a better quality of life. I always paid my taxes, insurance, everything that I needed to pay and I’ve got nothing. It gets me down – really down and I get frustrated and angry. There’s not a lot you can do really; just hitting your head against the brick wall, one long battle that makes you heart-broken, exhausted, more sad.”  - Sally

Aspire wrote to every Local Authority in England, using Freedom of Information requests, to find out how many wheelchair users they currently have waiting for social housing, and how many wheelchair users they have housed in each of the last three years. From those responses, we were able to calculate how long – at recent allocation rates – it would take for the Authorities to clear their waiting lists.

The results are shocking: 

  • Five Local Authorities will take over 50 years at current allocation rates to house those wheelchair users currently on their waiting lists.
  • Nearly one in five of the Authorities that responded will take over 20 years to clear their current waiting list, and that presumes that no new wheelchair user applies for housing in the meantime.
  • Whilst there are pockets of better performances, the median time to clear the waiting lists is a staggering five years; for the people that Aspire supports, that will often mean five years of having to live in a care home or making do in an unadapted property. The impact of such unsuitable housing is enormous, with research previously commissioned by Aspire highlighting the devastating effect it has on people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Graph showing time to clear current waiting lists

Whilst these unacceptably long delays are of huge concern, almost more worrying is that over half of the Local Authorities we contacted couldn’t tell us how many wheelchair users they have waiting for housing and how many wheelchair users they have successfully housed in recent years. If Authorities don’t understand the problem that they are facing, it is going to be impossible for them to tackle it. 

“I’ve been trying to work out a plan of action for getting back into work. But I have to plan everything so much around my showering and personal hygiene it’s just not possible at the moment. Living here puts me at a disadvantage in terms of getting back to work. When you really think about it, this is madness or just plain backward in thinking. If I had a house I could be independent and get work, seriously make a go of it. It’s what I want. Isn’t it what the government wants, for people to work? If it is then they need to look at housing much better.” - Teresa

There have been four recent Select Committee reports calling for national targets for accessible homes, and a duty under the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 to consider the housing needs of disabled people, but the government has yet to introduce any clear plans for reducing the shortage of wheelchair accessible homes. But this inaction from government doesn’t excuse Local Authorities; as we all wait for clear direction, there’s nothing to stop Local Authorities setting their own targets for accessible homes. Since 2004 the Greater London Authority has insisted that 10% of new builds are wheelchair accessible; our data shows that London Authorities had a significantly lower average waiting time to clear their accessible home waiting lists than those outside of London.

What is very clear is that whilst wheelchair accessible homes are not given the priority that is needed, thousands of disabled people have their lives put on hold simply because there is nowhere suitable for them to live.