4 March, 2024

Silence in our sector: Disabled voices in social housing

Disabled people are the biggest minority group in the UK with 14.6m people currently registered as disabled. Despite 21% of working adults being classed as disabled the emphasis on disability in social housing still tends to focus predominantly on the over 55s. Here we talk about the impact of this and what more can be done to support.

Melanie Beverley-Hughes

Events and Digital Communications Officer

The Better Social Housing Review (BSHR) and access to equal housing outcomes

The first recommendation ‘Every housing association, and the sector as a whole, should refocus on their core purpose and deliver against it.’ highlighting how the housing reality of residents who are individuals already facing discrimination and structural inequalities, such as people with disabilities and those from black and minority ethnic communities, is worse. The BSHR recommends that the need is to go back to basics and core purpose to ensure equal housing outcomes for all.

Data and disability

Data shows that 80% of disabled people become disabled during their working lives and 2/3 disabled people do not have a visible disability. Given the systemic barriers to diagnosis, these numbers are envisaged to be much higher. As important as data is, it does tend to be the stopping point in the social housing sector when it comes to disability.

Medical definition of disability vs social definition of disability

The medical definition focuses on the disability as being a problem that causes problems for the individual when it comes to society.

The social definition focuses on how it is the barriers in society that are disabling.

Social housing and accessible homes 

Accessibility continues to be low on the priority list in social housing, with the little conversations that take place actually turning into action and impact. To put this into perspective:

What is accessible housing? 

Accessible housing does not just mean a house that meets the resident’s needs in the home, but rather the wider social and professional impact. Not having an accessible home can limit health, study, career and social possibilities, meaning that an individual’s whole life is impacted if they are unable to live in an accessible home. 

Disabled voices and accessible social housing

Disabled voices are often excluded from the very conversations that should be centred around them, meaning any projects, plans or initiatives around disability that don’t centre disabled individuals’ input, are destined to fall short of what they need to be. Even within the social housing sector workforce, disability voices are under-represented, with NHF research focusing on England finding that only 9% of the sector’s workforce have a disability or long-term condition compared to 24% of the population and 29% of residents. Disabled voices should be included at all levels of social housing associations, including boards, however, one of the biggest barriers to this is the stigma around disability and the fear of disclosure.

Breaking the silence and taking action

Data shows the need is there and the benefits for all parties if disabled voices are platformed and inclusive plans built into strategy, planning and delivery. But how do we get there? Although it is easy to say, we need to stop talking and take action, this only applies to organisations that have already had and developed disabled lead conversations and projects, if you haven’t got past the data stage then talking, is where you need to start. Only by having more conversations, and becoming more educated about disability and accessibility, can we start to tackle not only the stigma surrounding disability, but take the step to move from words to actions.

Just like every aspect of EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion), there is no one-size fits all solution, but you must also be wary of getting too focused on an individual-by-individual basis where this isn’t the best solution. And just like with every aspect of EDI, mistakes will be made, it is acknowledging them and learning from them that matters. EDI should not be a tick-box exercise, nor a ‘nice to have’ it should be a case of raising awareness and putting things into practice, every day.


Get involved:
Roadmap to equality: an inclusive future  – aimed at board members
National EDI networks for CEO’s and EDI professionals – aimed leaders

If you’d like to find out more about getting involved with disability in social housing, please get in touch with melanie.beverley-hughes@hact.org.uk 

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