After the events at Prime Minister’s Questions the day before, the government faced more chaos on Thursday 20 July. And this time, the offices of a senior Tory minister were brought to a near-standstill right in the centre of London.
Access for all?
Campaign groups Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Transport for All (TfA) were at Chris Grayling’s Department for Transport on Thursday, to deliver a petition over disabled people’s access to public transport. But instead of simply handing over a list of signatures, the groups made their presence felt. And with the current chaos on our railways, they had every right to be angry.
DPAC and TfA, along with the Association of British Commuters (ABC), have been campaigning over disabled people’s access to rail travel. They say that disabled people are, in effect, restricted with how they can travel on public transport compared to non-disabled people. For example, TfA says, only one in five stations have step-free access.
Also, as The Canary has previously reported, disabled people have seen assistance at stations cut. So much so that one passenger was forced to drag himself on and off trains. And in another example, the ABC believes that Southern Rail is in breach of the Equality Act 2010 regarding its scrapping of full disabled access at 33 stations.
Chaos at the heart of government
So the groups took their concerns to the DfT; with members gathering outside to make their voice’s heard:
The event was a cross-organisational one, with members of both DPAC and TfA present, plus representatives from pensioners’ groups, passenger organisations, and three different trade unions:
But the DfT was not willing to speak to the protesters at first; even though it had been officially notified of their petition delivery. And disabled people weren’t impressed:
So eventually, protesters took to blocking the traffic outside the DfT to make their feelings known:
The 4,000-signature petition was eventually accepted by the DfT. The Canary asked the department for comment, but no one was available.
The three groups have also been supporting the ongoing industrial actions by the RMT and ASLEF unions over ‘Driver Only Operated’ (DOO) trains. And it was this issue that the DPAC petition was about.
Backing the unions
Southern Rail is planning to make all its trains DOO. This would mean the scrapping of guards across nearly all its services. And the RMT claims it could lead to the loss of guards on trains. But Southern Rail disputes this, saying all but one of the conductors will work on the trains as on-board supervisors, and it will be assigning more on-board supervisors to work on trains than it had before.
Also, disabled passengers would have to book support 24 hours in advance to get on and off trains. The RMT, DPAC, and the ABC say this would be breaking the law. The groups claim it would breach the Equality Act 2010. Southern Rail says disabled passengers can still turn up without notice and expect support – but that by booking in advance, the railway can give them additional assistance.
The DfT isn’t listening
But overall, the groups are angry with the DfT for its failure to compel rail operators to improve access for disabled people. And they all say that they have seven demands of the government:
Reverse the decision to defer 50% of Access for All step-free funding.
Let disabled and older people ‘Turn-Up-and-Go’ like everyone else.
Ensure working audio-visual announcements are on every train and platform.
Allow mobility scooters on every train.
Stop staffing cuts and provide assistance at every train and station.
Guarantee fully accessible trains with working accessible facilities.
Uphold a clear standard for accessibility in the franchising process.
Assistant General Secretary of the RMT Steve Hedley spoke at the protest. He said that the RMT was “100% behind” not only disabled people’s campaign for full access to trains, but:
against the Department for Work and Pensions, and their murder of disabled people, by withdrawing benefits…
the mental torture that they put people through; the physical torture when people can’t actually have enough food to eat…
It’s unbelievable that this… Theresa May-led government is still in power.
What century are we in?
Watching the effort that disabled people have to make to simply use public transport does beg the question: what century are we in? And why, in 2017, are they having to fight for their most basic of rights? The answer to that is sadly a fairly simple one. Because we have a privatised national rail service, those operating the network are more concerned with profit than passengers. And as is often the case, it’s disabled people on the sharp end of the drive to make money. Not that May’s government seems concerned.
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