It is good that we are starting to talk about the need for larger homes, even if the conversation has come at the cost of a pandemic. The general public’s re-evaluated ‘needs’ post-lockdown are now largely focused on making space for recreation and livelihood in the home. This new perception of what ‘need’ means is based on the assumption that lockdown has distributed an even and equal constriction of activity across every household, and that prior to lockdown, homes were serving our basic needs.
However, this is not the case for every household; 2 years ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that around 2% of all households in the UK include someone with a disability, whose housing is not appropriate for their needs. That means over 500,000 households are not fully accessible to those living there. The unsuitability of housing ranges from narrow doorways to upstairs bathrooms, meaning a number of people in the UK have been confined to just one room within their house for years pre-lockdown, in which they eat, sleep and bathe. This is exacerbated by the fact that the average waiting time for a suitably accessible home is over 2 years.
Interestingly, for some who have been housebound pre-Covid, the lockdown has opened up opportunities which were not available or accessible to them previously. Those who were unable to attend exhibitions, workshops, concerts or church services, can now do so virtually. These digital ‘social easements’ and permeability of the home must be continued in the future in order to make the public realm accessible to a higher degree, even when the wider public is able to return outside.
To return to the idea of enlarging the home, it is unfair to say that those without disabilities are undeserving of additional space, as every person’s own concept of ‘need’ is equally important and should be respected. But it is good to form our perception in alignment with the UK as a whole, and understand that for a percentage of the public, a larger home can be the factor that facilitates their very independence. If we are to build larger homes, they should either be prioritised for those currently living in inaccessible housing, or simply designed to be as future-proof as possible, so that they could be liveable for any tenant.