It's not just David Weir. A chronic shortage of social housing is making life hell for thousands of people with disabilities

Press involvement has missed the big story in this scandal

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The Independent Online

The story of multiple gold medal winning Paralympic athlete David Weir and the upstairs loo provides us with a depressingly familiar narrative. 

Callous and unbelievably stupid British bureaucracy cheerfully exploits Weir’s celebrity for PR purposes - and the naming of local leisure centres - but when it comes to providing accommodation so he doesn’t have to risk injury by using his arms to drag himself upstairs to the bathroom? Sorry old boy, that’d be favouritism. 

Enter the press, and a rapid U turn is the apparent result. Having been in exactly his position - I was reduced to using a commode for a while and it wasn’t a happy time - I can understand the issue only too well. So I’m glad that it’s getting fixed. 

But here’s my problem with the story: The focus on crass officialdom meant that it rather missed an important point that Weir’s fiancee made. She said she understood that there was a “huge demand for housing”. The shame is so few in power seem to understand this and the problems it creates.

Because Weir is not the only one in the unpleasant position of being a disabled person in hopelessly unsuitable accommodation.

I remember being taken back from hospital by ambulance, chatting to the drivers along the way. They’d tell me of many similar stories. One horrid example was of mobility impaired people in second or third floor flats accessible only by stairs, who never got out as a result and had to be bodily carried into and out of their homes by the ambulance drivers to get to medical appointments. Which were just about the only time they got out of those homes. Imagine how that feels.

The cause of the problem is simple: A chronic shortage of suitable social housing, particularly in London and and the South East where demand is at its peak. That’s where Weir’s story had its genesis. It’s also the cause of the back problems suffered by the ambulance staff, and the imprisonment of the poor people they told me about in their homes.

This issue goes beyond the disabled. It impacts upon the elderly too, and the young. In fact it affects anyone lacking the means to get on the housing ladder or for whom private rented accommodation is either unsuitable, or financially out of reach.

Weir being left hauling himself up his stairs with his arms, risking injury as a result, which would cost the health service far more to treat than simply finding him somewhere suitable, is only the tip of a very large iceberg created by the sale of council housing in the 1980s and the failure to adequately replenish the supply.

We like the narrative of his story because it exposes bumbling bureaucrats, who get a much needed turn in the publicity stocks, before performing a volte face which makes us feel good: The gold medal winning hero gets justice. Score one for public pressure and the press. 

And then it’s on to the next story and we forget about the thousands of other David Weirs who are battling against similar circumstances but who can’t call upon the press for help.

Now Weir’s problem has rightly been dealt with we would to do remember them and make a similar fuss on their behalf. Otherwise we’ll be here again.