Five things you need to know about Milton Keynes
18 July 2014
by Jane Harris
Labour Party members are heading to Milton Keynes this weekend to talk policy. It’s a pretty good location to think about the challenges the country faces and what all political parties could do to improve life for us all — so read on, policy-makers, for some sights to look out for.
1. Milton Keynes Central
The gateway to Milton Keynes. OK, it's not much of a looker — although it had a starring role as the United Nations in Superman IV — but it's better than half the other railway stations in the country. Why? Because it's step-free.
Half of our train stations are out of bounds to millions of people with mobility problems, which makes no sense. We need all our stations to be step-free for wheelchair users to be as free to get around as everyone else is. Whether rail operators are public or private, could you make their franchises contingent on being accessible to all?
2. Rows and rows of new houses
There aren’t many cutesy cottages but the houses in Milton Keynes are relatively new and more likely to be disabled-friendly homes than those elsewhere — although we know even new homes can be a nightmare. Across the country, thousands of disabled people are living in degrading conditions because our housing stock isn't up to scratch. Some, like Sue Frier, have to wash in their kitchens because they can’t go upstairs to their bathrooms. Others, like Elizabeth Forster, have had to use commodes in their dining rooms for years.
If you’re giving councils the right to borrow to build homes, you should insist that they build only disabled-friendly homes and some that are fully wheelchair accessible. Building homes that are easy to adapt costs about £500-£1,000 extra – and as more and more of us become disabled, there aren’t many better investments in the health and happiness of the country.
3. A lack of care
This week, we heard that social care funding for all councils is becoming unsustainable. Like most of the country, Milton Keynes isn't give people what they need. If you have what are called ‘low’ or ‘moderate’ needs, you won’t get any support. That means people who can’t wash, get dressed or make a meal without help are left to struggle alone.
This is just wrong, but it doesn’t make much economic sense either: according to Deloitte, investing £1 in care for this group brings a £1.30 return for the country. With half a million people becoming disabled in the UK every year, we all need to be sure that care will be there if we need it. Central government needs to ensure care is properly funded.
4. An Open University
The Open University is based in Milton Keynes and is a great resource for people who want to — or have to — study from home.
But disabled people should have the same access to education as non-disabled people. Universities need to ensure they build disabled-friendly student accommodation, make lecture theatres accessible and provide documents in large print or in audio formats. And politicians need to protect the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), which provides vital funds to support disabled people with the extra costs they face when going to university.
5. Wide streets
The boulevards of Milton Keynes aren’t to everyone’s tastes but many of the routes are wide and uncluttered routes — and great for wheelchair users. The rest of the country has a long way to go to make town centres and shopping centres as easy to get around.
Could improving access for disabled and older people be part of regenerating our high streets? It’s surely as important as just sprucing up shop fronts and adding in benches.
If you're off to Labour's National Policy Forum, we hope you have a good weekend. Some small changes to your policy ideas could have a huge impact on those of us who have a disability. They could also help those of us who develop a disability, whether due to a car or sports accident, illness or just old age. Please make sure that your policies on transport, housing, care, education and town centres work for all of us — not just those who happen not to be disabled.
Jane Harris is Leonard Cheshire Disability's managing director for campaigns and engagement. She has never been to Milton Keynes.