There are around 20,000 people on council waiting lists for a wheelchair-accessible home in England, the Habinteg Housing Association has found.
Only 427 wheelchair-accessible homes are built each year, meaning that someone could be on the waiting list for 47 years. Gary would be in his 90s by this point.
Three years ago, Gary was healthy and active. He was a keen cyclist and enjoyed hiking. He had a new job as a manager at Kirklees Council and was living with his parents, temporarily, having sold his house just before the pandemic broke out. He was close to his daughter, who is now 18.
And then he had the life-changing stroke which left him disabled. Gary was in the hospital within 45 minutes, but he had a severe allergic reaction to the clot busting medication and it caused a bleed on his brain. Doctors were not convinced he would survive the night.
“It’s left him with physical disabilities and cognitive impairment,” Serene says. “He’s lost use of his right arm, and he’s got limited use of his right leg. He has been severely affected. He’s lost the ability to read and write. It’s been a catastrophic change to his life.
“He’s now in the brain unit and he’s not active. He’s now at risk of diabetes because he’s gaining weight. It’s a vicious circle.”
Gary will be disabled for the rest of his life. He uses a wheelchair and electric scooter to get around, and a walking stick on his better days. He can sometimes walk short distances without the stick but gets anxious he will fall.
He needs a property to be accessible for his wheelchair, on a low level so he doesn’t have to negotiate too many steps. He also needs a walk-in shower.
His local council in Stockport has offered him places in care homes, but Serene has said this would be damaging for his mental health because he is so young. Other disabled people have been forced to live in temporary accommodation for years.
“They’re obviously highly keen on getting my brother out of the brain rehab unit, primarily because it must be costing the social services a lot of money. But the only option they’ve come up with is an elderly care home, which would strip him of all his independence.
“We’ve categorically said that is not happening. It would damage his mental health. He doesn’t want to be in a shared lounge with lots of elderly people. He wants to be in a place where he can spend time with his mates eating kebabs and singing songs, or where he can spend time with his daughter.”
A spokesperson for Stockport Council said: “The council is sorry to hear about the difficulties and anxiety experienced by the gentleman and his family.”
They encouraged him to continue contact with Stockport Homes, which works with people who have housing needs, so they can “discuss what support and potential suitable adapted accommodation options are available”.
“Specialist properties come with different restrictions,” they added, “so we’d encourage applicants to consider a wide range of areas and property types in order to maximise options to secure a property.”
Gary’s care at the brain rehabilitation unit was initially funded by the NHS and social services, but the NHS funding stopped when he was classed as ready for discharge. He pays for that each week using his benefits.
The NHS has also stopped funding his speech and language therapy, so he gets that privately at a cost of £200 a week. His parents are having to look at releasing equity from their property to help pay for it.
“It’s very disturbing,” Serene says. “It’s put my mum and dad’s life on hold. They have only just retired themselves, and now they have to be there for my brother 24/7. They’ve not been able to spend as much time with their grandchildren or go on holiday. This week Gary had a medical problem and my parents had to sort it for him.
“He’s got no access to the outside world. He’s solely reliant on our parents and the carers. He can’t come and see me anymore, which is soul-destroying for him. He keeps saying he wants to see my daughter play rugby and my son play football. I’m ploughing on and trying to get my home adapted. I’ve just got to do it.”
The family have also launched a fundraising campaign to build Gary an accessible home, with the help of charity Let’s for Life. They have estimated they will need around £100,000.
“It’s devastating,” Serene says. “He’s been a taxpayer all his life. Just prior to the stroke, he’d worked his way up to a position as a manager for Kirklees Council doing fire assessments, the job that he’d always wanted.
“He’d only been in the role close to 10 weeks and then this happened. His employees were brilliant and paid him as they should. But that all ended after six months. It’s devastating that somebody that’s been a taxpayer, and done everything right, ends up in this situation. Just because he’s disabled doesn’t mean he should be any lower in priority than myself if I needed home.”
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