Victory for disability rights activists as EHRC intervenes in railway destaffing

After six months examining the evidence, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has begun an intervention into rail staffing discrimination. It is now seeking a meeting with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Office of Rail and Road (ORR), and has assured us that: “we will not hesitate to use our enforcement powers, if necessary, to ensure their compliance with the law.”

The information is included in the EHRC’s response to our letter of mid-August, which was released to us earlier this week. It is a clear victory for all who signed the original demand, including Disabled People Against Cuts, National Federation of the Blind of the UK, National Pensioners Convention, and leading disability rights activists such as Ann Bates OBE and Professor Philip Alston, former UN rapporteur on poverty.

The RMT union has also been lobbying the EHRC throughout, and has now published a response to the 39-cross party MPs who requested intervention last November. The release of both letters follows the launch of a major inquiry by the Transport Select Committee on “accessible transport and legal obligations.”

Finally, we are pleased to report that the EHRC has been closely examining the evidence we have presented on the railway’s systematic discrimination against disabled people. Vital documents include an admission by Govia Thameslink that it has “been in breach of its legal requirements since 2010” and a dataset to prove that the same policies are in use at a total of six franchises: c2c, Chiltern, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Govia Thameslink and Southeastern.

The EHRC must take action now

The Dft and ORR received the EHRC’s request for a meeting over a month ago, but have so far failed to set a date, despite the fact that consultations on ticket office closures are rumoured to be just around the corner. With the new Transport Committee inquiry asking if the EHRC is fit for purpose, the need for a more assertive action is long overdue.

We now need to see an urgent public statement directly from the EHRC, warning operators and the ORR of their duties under equality law; as it previously did in 2019. It should then open a public investigation into the six operators alleged to be in breach.

The EHRC must also take a much more assertive approach towards the government, demand an immediate meeting, and a complete pause on any ticket office closure consultations. Now that the DfT is aware they will receive a huge amount of evidence from the new inquiry on transport accessibility, both the Transport Committee and the EHRC must demand that these consultations do not begin until the inquiry has reported back. This should be seen as a vital part of the DfT meeting its public sector equality duty, before it attempts the largest rail destaffing program in generations.

In addition to these policy interventions, the EHRC should reopen its transport discrimination legal fund, which closed in 2020 after just one year and a £48,870 spend. This should be part of a permanent commitment to promoting the right to transport as a fundamental human right for disabled people and all protected groups. Ultimately, their goal must be to support legal actions to establish vital case law on transport accessibility.

Download our original letter to the EHRC here.

Download our response from the EHRC here.

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