Today Ed Miliband has announced that he will look to tackle excessive rent rises in the private sector housing market. This is a welcome step to help people, but in my view he should go further when looking at the rental market and look into ways he can help disabled people.
Getting disabled people out of poverty can be achieved partly by helping them to move homes more easily. Bert Massie has just chaired a commission for the Labour party, which looked into breaking the link between disability and poverty, and I would argue that helping people move homes more easily is part of the answer. This view is based on personal experience because I have cerebral palsy and have had great difficulty in moving home.
Like many disabled people I have faced severe challenges in trying to find a job – although as I write this I am happily in employment after three years of being unemployed. I live in social housing in Edinburgh and was offered a job by a leading broadcaster in London in 2011. I had to turn down that job because I could not find an affordable and accessible place to live in either the social or private rented sector.
The problem I found with trying to move was twofold. Firstly, my flat is accessible so the only way I could get help from the local authority in London was to declare myself homeless but, because that would be a matter of choice, I would not get assistance to move. To help me, the council suggested I seek a home swap but that this could take months with no guarantee of success. So my employer and I agreed that, after months of waiting, the opportunity had gone.
Secondly, if I moved into the private sector I would lose my housing ‘points’, which would help me in the future with social housing. Even trying to move within my own city is a challenge because my flat is accessible so again there is little support to move within the social sector. In the private sector there are very few affordable accessible rental properties.
So I am at a crossroads in my career because I cannot apply for jobs outside of a commutable distance. I need to make a choice of whether I allow my career to stagnate or take a risk again and hope it works out differently by trying to move. It does not just affect my career but my personal life too. My girlfriend and I are both disabled and will face an uphill battle as we attempt to move in together.
I do not have the answer to the problem but want to raise the issue as work is a way to help disabled people out of poverty but linked closely with this is the housing debate, which I hope to contribute to.
Mark Cooper is former Young Labour disability officer, was Labour PPC for Orkney and Shetland in 2010, and tweets @markc1984
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