One thing I am particularly pleased to see in the Care Bill is that local authorities will have to promote wellbeing in relation to a number of factors, including suitability of living accommodation. Having lived for several years in a flat that was inaccessible, I know what a difference suitable housing can make to wellbeing.
My old flat was almost perfect for me when I first moved there but, within a couple of years of moving in, I became a wheelchair user, making the flat totally unsuitable.
It was on the first floor. To get in or out, I had to drag myself up and down outdoor stairs on my bottom, in full view of several neighbours. Bye bye dignity.
When it had been raining, puddles collected on the stairs and I would have to sit in them on my way up and down. I could not manage to get me, my wheelchair and a bag of rubbish down the stairs, so rubbish had to sit in my flat until someone visited who could take it out to the bin for me. Yuck.
I could use my wheelchair around the living room and kitchen but had to drag myself on my bottom to go to the bedroom or bathroom.
My local authority would not help. In their view, having to drag yourself around on your bottom is perfectly acceptable.
I was fortunate, I have a job, so was in a much stronger position financially to move than many disabled people living in unsuitable housing. And, for many, the bedroom tax will make matters worse.
Moving was difficult. It took two years to sell my flat and find somewhere to move to. I looked at hundreds of properties online, most of which were clearly unsuitable. Work colleagues, friends and I went to view in the region of 40 properties. Nothing was fully accessible and most would have needed all but rebuilding to make them accessible. But, finally, I struck gold and was able to move.
My new house is a little bungalow. I had to do work to make it accessible but now it is. With just a little wheelie over a small threshold, I can get in and out of the front door. The ramp to the back door is steeper than it should be but I can manage it. I have a wetroom with level access shower. I have a little garden that I can get around. It’s not perfect. The kitchen is too small to be fully accessible, for example. But, it’s a massive improvement.
I have been here now for a little over a year. Yet, I still feel excited every time I go into the bathroom or go in and out of the house. As for the excitement of taking rubbish out to the bin, wow!
Suitable housing is only one part of the mosaic of support disabled people may need. But, it is a part that is important. I hope that the Care Bill will make local authorities take it more seriously and enable more disabled people to move to suitable places.
Liz Ball is Campaigns Involvement Officer at Sense