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Housing

OK Theresa and Jeremy and Tim and Nicola and Leanne and all the other pavement walking, door knocking, Manifesto-pledging Parliamentary candidates currently pounding our Nations’ streets, I have some questions for you. And, as a disabled person, I’m pretty sure there are many others from my community who have questions for you too. Why are you not speaking to us? Don’t we count? Don’t our votes matter to you? I hope not.

What I want to know, exactly, is what the political big-wigs and hard-hitters and movers and shakers in this country can offer to us? What promises can you give to all of us. What promises or pledges will you make to us? According to all the statistics I have been able to find, there are around 12-13 million disabled people in this country, what are you going to do to our lives any better for us? Are you totally disregarding the collective power and magnitude of disabled people’s votes and the votes of our families and friends? I hope not. Do you really think you can continue to either demonise us or watch others doing the demonising without us noticing? I hope not. Are you going to continue putting our needs to the back of the queue? I hope not. Are you going to go on ignoring us? I hope not.

Well, here are my questions at any rate.

We are told that Social care in this country is in crisis. That there is not enough money to pay home-carers and unpaid carers a decent wage or benefit that reflects what they do to support and enable us. What are you going to do about it? We are the net users of that care, what are you planning on doing to alleviate the situation and ensure that we get the care we want and need to allow us to live our lives to the full?

What are you going to do?

Many of us need to use aids and adaptations in our daily lives such as hoists and wheelchairs and hearing aids and aids for people with visual impairments. What are you going to do so that we can all get the best equipment we need to live without having to fight for every nut, bolt, screw, , plug, cable and electronic component?

What are you going to do?

Then there is the constant battle to find a home, a place to live which can cater for our access needs and accommodate us properly and in comfort. It’s often one of the greatest obstacles we face but one where we appear to get little or no help in getting what we need. What are you going to do to ensure that there are houses and flats and bungalows available which allow us to live in the community with our families, alongside our friends and neighbours without having to fight for funding for alterations and adaptations?

What are you going to do?

How are you proposing that your party will ensure that disabled children and young people can receive the education they need and deserve alongside their non-disabled compatriots? How are you going to try to ensure that they can all study together and not be segregated due to an impairment meaning the school or college is physically inaccessible for all?

What are you going to do?

Everyone falls sick at some point in their lifetime, what are you going to do to ensure that everyone can access the healthcare we all need and not find it being rationed according to how much we need it and how expensive it is? How are you going to give us access to the doctors and specialists and the nursing professionals we need in our hospitals? Are you going to ensure that these professionals receive salaries that reflect their skills and dedication? Are you going to make sure that they have working conditions such as hours and breaks that allow them to do their jobs to the best of their ability and not want to leave?

What are you going to do.

Then there the employment thing. We are told that everyone must work and get a job. What are you going to do to ensure that disabled people who can work get the support they need to do so safely and successfully and that those that can’t work due to their impairments are not demonised and punished for daring to be sick and disabled. Many of us would like to have the opportunity to do something, however small, what are you going to do to help us? How are you going to promote disability in the workplace so that those of us who can work and want to work get the support we need and the opportunity to do so?

What are you going to do?

Talk to us and tell us how you are going to help and support us. Why should we vote for you and your party as opposed to the other parties and their candidates? What are you going to do that will make a difference for us? Don’t write off 13 million potential voters. Please talk to us and tell us what you’re going to do to help us. If you want my vote give me a reason to put my cross next to your name on the ballot paper. What difference are you going to make to my life? Why should I vote for you, please tell me.

What are you going to do?

I am absolutely furious with my Housing Association, London and Quadrant Housing Trust.

I have been a tenant of theirs for almost 30 years now and they KNOW about my impairment and the fact that I am now restricted to bed 24/7. It’s on my record. Yet the way I have been treated by their employees today has been disgusting.

Let me explain.

This morning, when my carer arrived, we discovered that there was no hot water in the tank and that the heating was off. Once my carer had managed to deal with everything that needed doing – she had to boil a kettle so she could help me wash – I set about ringing to get someone round to deal with the situation.

And that is when my problems really started.

The first thing that happened was that I encountered a recorded message on the direct dial maintenance line phone. It informed me that, as it was the weekend, the Maintenance Department was now closed until Monday morning and that I should phone back then, during office hours. Not good. A long weekend of freezing to death loomed large. No thanks!

Nothing daunted I decided to search online until I could find another number with a human being to talk to at the other end of the line as I was certain there must be an Emergency, 24 hour number I could call listed somewhere. Sure enough, I eventually managed to find one for the L&Q Head Office and, when I rang that, I was immediately put through to their Emergency Maintenance Department. It was now around 11.30 am.  

The woman I spoke to took my details and, once I’d explained about being severely disabled and restricted to bed, said that she would call the boiler engineering firm they used and that someone would be round before 4pm. Sorted. Re-assured that everything would get dealt with relatively quickly, I settled back to wait for a knock on the door and the promise of warmth once more.

But, even though the minutes and hours ticked slowly and icily past, nothing happened.

Nothing at all.

Finally, at about 4.45pm, fed up and freezing, I rang the same number I’d found this morning once more. This time I got a different receptionist who, once she had taken my details, looked me up on her computer and told me there was no record of my call from this morning noted at all! Not a word. As a result, no engineers had been contacted and no-one was coming.

Yet again I explained the situation and my circumstances and the fact I was freezing and that’s when she said something that infuriated me. Despite the fact I had told her, only minutes beforehand, that I was restricted to bed due to my impairment and unable to get up or walk or go out at all she told me there was nothing she could do before Monday and that, if I was cold, I should go out, buy a heater and boil a kettle if I needed hot water.

Just what part of ‘Paralysed’, ‘Restricted to bed’, ‘Severely disabled’ and ‘Unable to walk or to move about’ is so difficult to understand?

After huffing and puffing and coming very close to bursting into tears of frustration I went through it all again and, finally, she said she’d phone the engineers and ask them to ring me and tell me when they’d be round.

And then she hung up on me!

Four hours later, engineers conspicuous by their absence, I have just finished my third call of the day to the, so-called, Emergency Maintenance Line and, yet again, I have been promised that someone will be out tonight and that I will be getting a call from the Engineers themselves to tell me when the visit will be.

It’s not looking promising and I am disgusted by the way I have been treated. If nothing hapens soon I have a pretty good idea what I’ll be doing tomorrow, and it won’t be shivering silently in a corner. 

London and Quadrant maybe a Social Housing firm but, as I’ve learnt today, if you’re severely disabled and have an urgent issue that needs fixing, ‘Don’t hold your breath’.

What an eventful political week.

Who could have predicted the momentous turn of events we have just witnessed only one, short month ago. Not me, for one. Saying goodbye to David Cameron and his team and hello to Theresa May and her’s is going to change so many things, long-term, for us all.

But, what do I as a disabled person, want to see delivered by the new regime?

Well, for a kick off I want to see an end to all Welfare Benefits sanctions, in particular sanctions which mean that disabled people are left without sufficient money to pay for food and medication and rent and energy costs and transport costs. I would like to see proper Welfare Benefits for disabled people where we didn’t have to continually justify our existence or prove how ill we are at every turn. Applying for Disability Benefits and attending never-ending face-to-face assessments or tribunals is soul-destroying, mentally traumatic and largely unnecessary. I want to see an end to people being punished for the crime of being too sick to work and being awarded benefit levels that allow us to actually live not just subsist. Just because we are either born or become too ill to earn our own livings does not mean we should always be put at the bottom of the heap or made to feel as if we are a burden on our families and society through no fault of our own.

I would like to see physically disabled people being able to access proper equipment based on what we want not what the government deem us as needing. The cheapest option is not always the best option in the long term. Giving us the bare minimum could be counterproductive. Spending a bit more to help us now may well mean less needs to be spent in the long term because our medical conditions might not deteriorate as fast, if at all because we are not having to struggle all the time for everything. There needs to be better provision of proper Mental health care and access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for as long as it needed, not a one size fits all system. Everyone is different and this needs to be recognised. There should also be mandatory mental health first aid training for anyone working with young or vulnerable people and for both physically and mentally disabled people, proper support for the NHS. I would like to see more funding made available for medical research which may lead to a better understanding of disabling conditions, better treatments and possible cures.

Another important consideration for many disabled people is care. I would like to see more money put into support for family carers, support for young carers. There should be mandatory respite care, for all disabled people of at least two weeks, annually allowing both disabled people and their carers a break where they can relax, safe in the knowledge that needs will be met. I would like to see this combined with increased level of social care. I would like to see family carers paid a living wage rather than just receiving the paucity which is Carer’s Allowance. I would like to see proper recognition of the value of family carers and how much money they save the nation. I would also like to see a proper rate of pay for all social carers. Without them and without family carers many more disabled people would need residential care or hospitalisation at a far greater cost to Social Services and NHS budgets.

And then there is transport and transportation costs. I would like to see a version of Taxicard available nationwide. I would like to see more investment in a fully accessible transport network. I would like to see much wider provision of wheelchair accessible transport such as Dial-a-Ride services and wheelchair accessible mini-cabs. Blue badges need to be universal for hospital carparks. There should be free parking or a refund of reasonable travel costs for relatives of people who are long-term in patients in hospitals.

These are only my initial thoughts and things that affect me personally the most but there are so many other things I feel that our new Prime Minister and her Cabinet should tackle that could benefit the lives of disabled and older people nationwide. Education, Transport, Access to Justice, Employment, the list is never ending.

Am I hopeful that we will see any of this?

Frankly, no.

Well, that’s interesting.

I am a Housing Association tenant and I have just received my quarterly residents magazine from the HA and I think I am being discriminated against.

Not me personally but me as a disabled person.

Apparently my area is a test area for Housing Association tenants who want to buy their own home under the Government’s much-trumpeted new ‘Right to Buy’ scheme. Now, I am not actually interested in buying, I am more than happy to go on renting, but I thought I’d read the article anyway just to see what was being proposed.

That’s when I found that I am not eligible, despite living in a pilot area.

Why, I hear you ask.

The reason, as usual, is simple. My impairment. The fact that I am severely disabled is proving to be a barrier once again. According to the article, some types of home and tenancies are not included in the pilot, including homes like mine that have had adaptations made to cater for a disabled or older person’s particular, disability related needs.

Now, that smacks of discrimination to me. The article is saying that, if the Housing Association had not made some adaptations because of my impairment nearly twenty years ago, I would now have the right to buy my house, should I want to. Because of those adaptations it appears I don’t have that right.

Now, I am happy to acknowledge that, before we moved into the house, the Housing Association made extensive adaptations such as wider doorways, a wheelchair accessible bathroom and moving the front doorway to accommodate ramped entry to the property. Those adaptations were done using a Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) from my local Council. When we were discussing this with the Housing Association, back in 1997, we agreed that we would live in the house and pay rent for a minimum of ten years. We have done this. We have now lived in the property and paid our rent for sixteen years. We have abided by our agreement.

So, why does this mean that, should I wish to buy my home the way the Government wants me to, I can’t. My impairment prevents me from doing so many things, am I now to be prevented from becoming a home-owner because of it? That’s what it sounds like to me. Most people on my estate will be able to buy if they want to, disabled and older people who have had adaptations done, like me,  won’t. That doesn’t sound very fair to me.

I suspect that the issue actually surrounds the scarcity of accessible and adapted properties amongst the social housing stock in the pilot areas but that is not disabled people’s fault. That is the fault of the Housing Associations and, ultimately, successive Governments, for not building enough suitable homes for all the people who may need them. Why should disabled people miss out on a opportunity that is to be granted to so many other people? Why should we be left out in this great rush into home ownership? People with Housing Association homes that have not been adapted will be able to benefit from grants and discounts if they want to buy the property they have lived in for many years but not me or other disabled or older people. If we want to buy a house, we must buy on the open market without a grant or discount. We would have to pay more that a non disabled person buying a similar Housing Association home. That doesn’t sound very fair to me.

If I had the money, the time and the inclination to do it, I might consider instructing solicitors to take this matter to court as the discrimination issue it surely must be. People with adapted properties are not able to buy their homes and people with adapted homes are either older people, disabled people themselves or have a disabled person living in the property such as a disabled child and we are precluded because of this.

How much more blatant does discrimination have to be? As far as I am concerned, not very.