William Eichler 25 April 2017

Whitehall must be ‘more ambitious’ in improving access in public places

Whitehall must be ‘more ambitious’ in improving access in public places

The Government must act to ‘lead the charge’ in improving access and inclusion in the built environment, MPs say.

The Women and Equalities Committee has published a new report highlighting the challenges disabled people face in accessing homes, buildings and public spaces.

It found that many workplaces are inaccessible and there is very little choice for the disabled of where to live. Public spaces through which people need to move can also be prohibitively excluding.

The report argues that these factors constitute an unacceptable diminution of quality of life and equality for people who are physically and/or mentally disabled.

The MPs said the Department for Communities and Local Government should be responsible for delivering a coherent strategy for promoting a more inclusive approach to the built environment.

The committee also called for improved engagement with disabled people to ensure that they have a meaningful input – both nationally and locally – to the creation of inclusive buildings and environments.

The MPs concluded that while the Equality Act 2010 required adjustments to be made so disabled people were not excluded from workplaces, public buildings, and places that serve the public, in practice this was not having ‘the kind of impact that it was expected to have’.

They said Whitehall had left change to be achieved through a model of enforcement that relies on litigation by private individuals.

‘Poor accessibility affects us all. Even if not disabled ourselves, most people are related to, work with or are friends with someone who is,’ said committee chair Maria Miller.

‘Increases in life expectancy will mean that over time, an ever greater proportion of us will be living with disability, and our understanding of ‘disability’ has developed to recognise that those with mental health problems, autism or other less visible impairment types also face disabling barriers.’

‘Yet the burden of ensuring that an accessible environment is achieved falls too heavily at present on individual disabled people – an approach which is neither morally nor practically sustainable,’ she continued.

‘Instead, we need a proactive, concerted effort by “mainstream” systems and structures – including national and local government and built environment professionals – to take on the challenge of creating an inclusive environment.’

‘The Government must be more ambitious,’ Ms Miller concluded.

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