I spend much of my time trying to represent the views of disabled
people on local public bodies. Much of this is grinding, routine
committee work, co-ordinated by administrators trying to eke out as
much as they can for as many people as possible out of their
budgets. As far as I can tell, many are doing this with the
awareness that the decisions they make have dramatic effects on
disabled people’s lives.
The key word, however, in that paragraph is “budget”.
The local wheelchair service is so underfunded that it can meet
only seven-twelfths of the annual demand. So if you become
permanently physically disabled and need a wheelchair in October
you will not even be considered for one until the following April.
If you are deemed to be temporarily disabled, you would not be
considered for a wheelchair at all.
So, in my locality, if you lose the ability to walk at the “wrong”
time of year you could be left with no way of moving around your
own home, accessing your own local community or even shopping for
yourself for six months or more – even if relatives, friends or
carers were prepared to push you. When I queried this, I was told
that the budget for the provision of all forms of wheelchair had
not increased for years. This was accompanied with a look that
clearly said “and there’s nothing we can do about it”. A few years
ago, I spent six months without the opportunity to leave my home. I
became irritable, withdrawn, depressed and inward-looking. I was
marooned in a very small space.
A review of local care services revealed that the proportion of
adults between 16 and 64 helped to live in their own homes was
two-fifths of the proportion of that in the best-performing local
authority in the country. This means that hundreds of people in my
area are merely existing in residential and nursing homes or
I have no reason to believe that the situation is much better in
the rest of the country. By anyone’s rough calculation, it would
cost just a few million pounds to ensure that everyone who needed a
wheelchair had access to one. We need better investment in
appropriate home care, funded at current rates rather than figures
five years old. Better co-ordination of housing services with, for
example, a database of social housing stock that is wheelchair
accessible and a commitment to ensure that, in future, a set
proportion is adequately converted is a matter of common sense.
Surely a commitment to these kinds of improvements, which would not
cost the earth, would dramatically change the quality of life of
thousands of disabled people and their carers. It must make
economic sense to support people in their own homes rather than
allow them to stagnate in hospitals or residential homes. Changes
like these would truly mark the European Year of the
Simon Heng is a disabled service user.