In a letter dispatched today to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), disability rights activists and human rights experts have called for its “urgent legal and policy interventions” into the UK government’s secret plans for railway destaffing.[i] Their demand has been co-signed by Prof. Philip Alston, international human rights lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights [ii], and Ann Bates OBE, access expert and former UK government advisor on transport accessibility.
All signatories to the letter are known for their bold opposition to railway destaffing, including: Andrew Hodgson, President of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK; Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention; Paula Peters, on behalf of the Disabled People Against Cuts Steering Group; and Emily Yates, researcher and co-founder of the Association of British Commuters. They are joined by high-profile disability rights activists: Alan Benson MBE, Sarah Gayton, Anthony Jennings, Sam Jennings, Sarah Leadbetter and Doug Paulley.
Responding to widespread allegations of mass ticket office closures, and the government’s reported £2 billion yearly cuts to railway spending, the activists say: “this could be our last chance to prevent an escalating human rights crisis on Britain’s railways”. They have demanded “full transparency from the government about any new staffing models under consideration”; a robust staffing model to provide guaranteed ‘turn up and go’ assistance; and a public consultation on staffing and accessibility, insisting that “the upcoming Transport Bill should not go ahead until this consultation has been completed.” The activists want the EHRC to ask for support from the United Nations (UN), and establish a joint approach to protect the “fundamental right to spontaneous travel” of disabled people and other protected groups. [iii]
[i] The letter resumes a campaign pioneered by Ann Bates OBE, access consultant and former Rail Chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) ; and Emily Yates, independent researcher and co-founder of the Association of British Commuters; who secured an EHRC intervention into railway destaffing in 2019. The EHRC set up a transport discrimination legal fund in September 2019, but closed it early due to a lack of applications during the lockdown. During its nine months of operation, it assisted with 26 matters at a total spend of £48,870.
[ii] Philip Alston is Professor of Law at NYU Law School and Faculty Director and Co-Chair of NYU Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. He was formerly UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (2014 – 2020). In July 2021, Philip Alston published ‘Public Transport, Private Profit’, concluding that the UK government could be in breach of three international human rights conventions in relation to cuts to bus services. He called for the public control of buses, the implementation of the socioeconomic duty of the Equality Act, and a statutory right to transport.
[iii] The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is running a call for input for his report to the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, closing on 14 Oct 2022. The theme is “the design and delivery of services that underpin the right of disabled people to live independently and be included in the community.”
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