Why is age discrimination in housing allowed?

Someone holding up a poster featuring phrases commonly found in house/flat rental ads, including 'No DSS', 'DSS welcomed', 'Friendly warm house', 'Non-Smoker', 'No fix, no fee! Affordable rates' and many others in large and small lettering.This blog entry is by a friend of mine who is being evicted from her father’s flat where she has been living for some time. She has long-running mental health problems and is a wheelchair user and was told in December to find a new place to live within three months. She has appealed on Twitter for help finding accessible places to live which will take Housing Benefit in the London area but, despite the tweets being retweeted hundreds of times, has received no leads to suitable places, much less offers; she has also found none on the websites which specialise in accessible and DSS-accepting properties. It’s painful to read of this struggle as there are in fact plenty of suitable properties, but they are reserved for older people.

It’s not the first time I’ve read of young disabled people searching for an accessible property and finding none, and finding such properties which are subject to age discrimination is something friends have told me about in the past. I was thinking of bungalows and properties that are accessible to wheelchair users, but Mark Neary, who is well-known for his legal battle to get his autistic son, Steven, out of an unwanted and unsuitable care home placement in 2010, mentioned this afternoon that when looking for flats for himself and Steven last year after the council earmarked his old council house for demolition, that “each week there were several over 55s flats available but nothing else”. Besides level access, young disabled people would benefit from the same advantages these places offer elderly people (precisely because of their physical infirmity), such as staff on duty to assist in the event of falls and so on.

Worse, although new business premises are required to offer wheelchair access, new multiple residential buildings are not. I used to know someone who lived in Poundbury, Prince Charles’s showpiece village outside Dorchester, Dorset, in a first-floor flat in a purpose-built small block. Charles’s estate does accept housing benefit recipients as tenants (which almost no other private landlord in the area does) but, I was told, did not allow lifts to be installed at the Duchy’s insistence. This lady recently became disabled, and will now have to move out of her flat, most likely into a care home, or even out of the area; but not being able to visit friends’ houses freely is a way disabled people are excluded from mainstream society, and new buildings should allow them access.

The law should be changed so that accessible properties that any disabled person could live in cannot be reserved purely based on age (I accept that specific impairments, such as dementia, could be grounds for reservation) and if they are, it should be for old people, over 70 or 75 perhaps, rather than merely those at or nearing retirement age, given that we are mostly living longer and age 60 is considered quite young for an old person, and not an age at which people die of old age anymore; 55 is what most people consider middle-aged, not elderly. This is something that major disability charities and campaign groups should be fighting for; while nobody doubts that the over-55s have “paid their dues”, disabled people have the right to independence and family life and cannot even hope to start a productive life if they are trapped in an unsuitable home or with abusive or hostile relatives. There’s no justification for this discrimination; the over-55s are not more important than disabled people of any other age.

Image credit: Alison Barnes.

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