This has been a weird week. Going back to work has been tough, as it has for all of us following the festive season, but it's been more than that. During a break from work I found myself commenting on Twitter about the Housing Bill going through committee stage in the House of Commons. It may deeply impact on the lives of many people if it passes into law. I commented as it is very likely that my wife and I will be some of those people, because we both work and live in social housing, because we are both trying to live as the government and media claim they want us to, playing a so called constructive part in our economy by working and paying tax.
I'm very lucky that I have found a career that gives me a good income which fits with my physical abilities, and that I can work at all. But I am not a rare member of the disabled community. Many disabled people work and do the "constructive part of society" thing. However after I tweeted that the part of housing bill named Pay To Stay, that states households with a joint income of £30,000 outside London and £40,000 in the capital will have to pay 80% of the market rate for their local authority or housing association home, will really impact on my wife and my ability to pay our rent I was met with a tirade of ill informed abuse. In our case, our rent might easily rise to above £50,000 per year which obviously will mean we will no longer be able to stay in the specially adapted home we now rent off a housing association. What I was trying to point out was that maybe the level of the supposed high income was a little low and that, however much people might like to believe that idea that this part of the bill was about fairness, in our case, as with many others, it might prove deeply unfair.
But why? Well, other than suddenly being expected to pay £10,000 more the level of joint income required to cause this change in our annual rent, the key issue is that the reason why we were given a social housing flat was due to the special needs I have as a disabled person. Our flat was specially designed to be a wheelchair user's flat and then has had further changes to ensure it works well for my individual needs. One of the things that makes it a wheelchair user's flat is it's size, which in turn under Pay To Stay would lead us to have such a dramatic increase in rent. All wheelchair users need "turning circles" to get round and that has been described in law as a set amount of space in every area that has a specific use. So in our living/dining room there are two such turning circles, and there are one in each bedroom, kitchen and loo. Without them I would not be able to actually fit in my home. There are other elements such as wider doors and a charging point in the hall for anyone who uses a powered wheelchair. I have had specific things done to my loo to make it work for me, and the kitchen has been adapted for my needs too. Part of the reason why the social housing sector takes up the requirement for accessible housing is it would cost the private sector too much to carry out such adaptations and thus make it unreasonable under law. Basically it is the easiest and cheapest way for our society to ensure disabled people and their families can be housed. A recent report by Leonard Cheshire highlighted that over nearly 200,000 disabled people are currently waiting for such suitable housing and so I know how lucky my wife and I really are.
This was one of the things that so incensed my twitter detractors. I just didn't seem grateful enough for the wonderful gift of housing that suited my needs. I was also berated for living in London, as many non-disabled people couldn't afford to, or getting this supposed subsidized housing at all. I won't go into whether or not housing associations are really subsided, which I would refute, but the last area of rage that my twitter debate raised was the fact that I was lucky to be paid all these benefits. Er? My point was that as a working family we would be hit by the Pay To Stay element of the Housing Bill, yet the stereotype of disabled people being on benefits is so ingrained that apparently the fact I work was entirely ignored. Apparently all disabled people live a life on benefits, even those who work!
This is one of tragic outcomes of the misinformation around disability that has occurred in the last decade or so. While many disabled people are unable to work, either through ill health or due to employers believing another incorrect stereotype of disabled people being poor employees, there are many who do work. Surely that's not too difficult to understand? Just being disabled does not equal living on benefits at all. Also aren't those disabled people who require benefits to get by exactly the people who the system was set up to support? So why all the venom against disabled people, working or not?
I really believe that a healthy society is more than happy to support those who are unable to support themselves, especially due to illness or disability. What is most ridiculous is that as most disabled people come by their impairment later in life it is very likely that the very people who are so upset by this system of support may have to call on it one day, when they need it the most. Bet they call it fair then.
© Mik Scarlet 2016