I welcome the actions taken by many cities and towns to support active transport. However, it is important to understand that not everyone can walk to work, and access to a car or other private transport is frequently not available to all. The Government needs to work with city regions and other councils on a safety-led scaling up of passenger transport.
Its transport guidance for operators states that service providers have duties to ensure individuals with protected characteristics are able to access transport networks. It notes that individuals should be supported to comply with social distancing and that all equality and discrimination law continues to apply. The guidance for passengers also advises: “If you require assistance when travelling and would normally contact your transport operator ahead of time, continue to do so”.
I know that social distancing can be challenging for blind and partially sighted people, but Guide Dogs has highlighted measures that can be taken to ensure that people with sight loss can safely access public transport as movement restrictions are eased.
I have contacted the bus and train providers in Bolton, shared Guide Dogs’ guidance with them and asked them to do all they can to enable people with sight loss to use public transport safely during this difficult period.
The Government has said that, as the UK recovers, it will ensure people with disabilities can have independent lives and are not marginalised. I believe it is hugely important that disabled people are at the heart of the Government’s recovery strategy.
More broadly, I believe that the needs of disabled people must be a consideration right from the start of policy-making.
I am calling for the Government to undertake and publish a urgent, meaningful equality impact assessment of its Coronavirus Recovery Strategy on groups with protected characteristics, including disabled people. We have already seen how COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated economic, health and social inequalities in our society. It is vital that the groups most at risk in this crisis are protected in the Government’s plans to ease lockdown.
I recently submitted a written question to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, asking him to implement the recommendations of Scope’s latest report: ‘The Disability Report: Disabled People and the Coronavirus Crisis’. This report highlighted the unique problems that the coronavirus crisis is causing for disabled people and what can be done to address them.
I can assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to raise our concerns over the treatment of disabled people with the Government, during this crisis and afterwards.