Housing Crisis :
Disabled Invade Burnage Housing Office

Disabled people are an invisible minority group in society, therefore our needs are overlooked or medicalised. One of the main issues is accessible housing which would enable disabled people to live within the community and contribute usefully to society.

A group of 20 peaceful protesters, many of them local disabled residents, has occupied a Housing Office and is currently holding a house-warming party there, in a move aimed at persuading the council to address Manchester's crisis in housing disabled people. Protesters brought mattresses, even a television into the office, and will house themselves there until their demands are met.

The protest comes only ten days after an informed source within Manchester's Housing Department admitted that there are "probably thousands" of disabled people in the city waiting for accessible housing.

The protest group includes Burnage tenant Clair, 28, a wheelchair user living in a first floor flat with no lift - only a flight of stairs. In over three years, although she is at the "top of the list" as Band A with star housing priority, the council has failed to find a suitable property for her and her five year old daughter, who is also disabled.

The group, mostly members of D.A.N., the Disabled People's Direct Action Network, presented their demands at the housing office on Westcroft Road at lunchtime today. They waited 30 minutes for a response before setting out mattresses and sleeping bags and taking occupation. They then donned party hats, produced party food and house-warming cards.

The protesters will demand:
that Manchester Housing Department find or adapt a safe, accessible property for Clair; a meeting with acting Director of Housing Steve Rumbelow and the Chair of the Housing Committee; and for them, in consultation with disabled people's organisations in the area, to create a plan to address the crisis in housing disabled people in Manchester.

"I'm at the end of my tether and my case is not the worst scenario" says Clair. "For me an accessible home would increase mine and my daughters independence and self-sufficiency. However, in Manchester, and nationally, lack of safe housing and support means masses of disabled people cannot leave parental home, abusive relationships, or hospital and are dumped in institutions such as nursing homes and respite. We are forced into dependency often by circumstances, rather than by illness or impairment."

The crisis in Manchester exists in spite of the city being described by the Government as a "Centre of Excellence" for housing, and being nominated for Beacon status for "equality in housing". In fact, the number of disabled people in Manchester waiting for suitable housing is "probably more like thousands" than hundreds, an informed source within the housing department admitted last week. The source revealed that even if an extra "thirty or forty bungalows" were made available, they could be filled "ten or twenty times over - and then some."

"I'm sure my predicament is the rule rather than the exception," says Clair. "It seems like whenever someone tries to help me - my MP, Keith Bradley; or Martin Pagel the Deputy Leader of the Council - the Housing Department offers me yet another unsuitable property: just to be seen to be doing something."

Ten or so properties have been offered to Clair so far. Occupational Therapists from the Housing Department's Equipment and Adaptations Service have judged most of them unsuitable for Clair for reasons of access or safety. In other cases housing have decided they cannot adapt the properties and have therefore withdrawn the offers. "We have a right to safe, accessible housing in our own community," says Clair, "Close to my daughter's school and her dad and grandma."

Clair has started tribunal proceedings against the council, since by not providing adequate housing it has broken two points of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person's Act, plus part of the Disability Discrimination Act. "Until the Council realise that our demands are only a reasonable expectation of what they should already be providing," says Clair, "we'll live in Burnage West Housing Office. At least it's one building in Burnage with Access for disabled people. I hope others take this chance to speak out" she adds with a smile.

Press contacts:
Tom 07940 257 377.
Richard 07931 872 724.
June 07932 151 700.
Clair 07970 959791

You can send messages of support, or to add your story you can email us at: burnage_occupation@hotmail.com , or call the housing director to urge him to create a plan.

More information about national DAN and the Free Our People campaign at the above website, or phone the national office on 0121 247 4424.