Leonard Cheshire have a history of closing care homes without any proper regard to those who live in them. Notable recent examples include Greathouse and Honresfeld, both closed with indecent haste following Leonard Cheshire’s autocratic decision.
I am disturbed to hear that on Monday Leonard Cheshire’s 7,500+ staff were informed that they are selling off 17 of their homes. They will inform residents of this on Monday.
The decision was apparently made in March, but we all know that many / all of Leonard Cheshire’s homes have been run into the ground for years, and there’s been a compete change in senior management at Leonard Cheshire over the past couple of years. Rats leaving a sinking ship?
We are, however, very disappointed at the way in which Leonard Cheshire has communicated and managed this situation to date. A letter was sent to residents and families on 25 January with the intention to close the home by 31 March.
In our view this shows an uncaring disregard for the wellbeing of residents, some of whom have lived in the home for over 20 years. With better planning and more notice Leonard Cheshire could have worked with Rochdale Borough Council and the CCG to plan the closure and the enforced move for residents more sensitively.
I am profoundly worried for the wellbeing of the residents in the 17 homes to be “sold”.
Section 167 of the Act (Equality Act 2010) permits, but does not require, LAs (Local Authorities) to maintain a designated list of wheelchair accessible taxis and PHVs (Private Hire Vehicles).
Whilst LAs are under no specific legal obligation to maintain a list under section 167, the Government recommends strongly that they do so. Without such a list the requirements of section 165 of the Act do not apply, and drivers may continue to refuse the carriage of wheelchair users, fail to provide them with assistance, or to charge them extra.
It recommended local authorities create their lists by October 2017.
I decided to find out what local authorities are planning to do in response to this. I submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 366 taxi licensing councils, and Transport for London (who administer taxi licensing on behalf of all the London boroughs) in April 2017 and in October 2017.
Map of my data by Jeff Harvey of Transport for All shows which authorities have a S167 list (green), plan to produce one (yellow) or have no current plan to do so (red).
Only 51% of British taxi licensing authorities either had a list or have a plan to create one this financial year. It’s particularly bad in Scotland where only 28% are taking it up.
26% of authorities have actively decided not to work towards such a list at the moment.
In areas that don’t create a list, wheelchair users can continue to be overcharged. Even if they report it, the driver won’t face the legal penalty. Wheelchair users will continue to be disempowered.
Even where authorities have created a list, the law is not enforced. There are 30,298 wheelchair accessible hackney carriages licensed by the 119 authorities that have implemented S167 of the Act. Yet no driver has faced enforcement action under the legislation, one year after it was commenced.
It is disappointing that many councils are undermining the Government’s intent in bringing in this legislation, by their failure to undertake the required office work. Their inaction means that taxi drivers can continue to discriminate against wheelchair users with impunity.
In much of the UK, councils have no clear plan to implement the anti-discrimination law.
All is not lost.
Pressure and publicity from disabled people and their allies has already made some authorities decide to implement the law. For example, of the seven dissident councils contacted by the Disability News Service following my initial research results, five councils (Oldham, Epping Forest, Stratford-on-Avon, Suffolk Coastal, and Waveney councils) changed their policy.
If your council has yet to commit to implementing this anti-discrimination legislation, (you can check in my data tables above) contacting them may well cause them to change their tune. Your contact point would be the councillors for your area on the District or Unitary council, or your London Assembly member. You can use WriteToThem to identify and contact the relevant ones, by putting your postcode in this box:
Please use your own words, but you may wish to include some of the following points:
Taxis are essential for disabled people’s quality of life, especially given the barriers disabled people experience with other forms of transport.
Creating a list is a relatively minor bureaucratic procedure that sends a clear message that wheelchair users have the right to travel by taxi without discrimination.
The Government’s Statutory Guidance strongly recommends councils produce a list, because “without such a list the requirements of section 165 of the Act do not apply, and drivers may continue to refuse the carriage of wheelchair users, fail to provide them with assistance, or to charge them extra.“
The licensing body should create a list even if all taxis licensed by them are wheelchair accessible. Simply stating “all the taxis we license are wheelchair accessible” doesn’t have the desired effect of putting taxi drivers under a legal duty to take wheelchair users and not to charge extra for doing so.
It is important to create a list even if there are very few accessible taxis. It is perhaps even more important that drivers of such taxis don’t discriminate against wheelchair users.
Fleur Perry has written a template letter which may be useful to inspire you in your message.
Additionally, you may choose to tweet your local council. Muscular Dystrophy UK suggest “Taxis are not a luxury for disabled people. Will you support the equality act and make your taxis accessible? #section167fail”
MiscellanyComments Off on AGM Activism: the 4,000th Living Wage employer – thanks to Share Action!
We all deserve to be paid a true Living Wage: a fair day’s pay for a day’s hard work, calculated based upon the Cost of Living. That’s why in Summer 2017 I attended Croda International’s AGM, on behalf of Share Action.
I knew we may be pushing on an open door; and I’m glad to say we were: our approach asking them to consider Living Wage Foundation accreditation was well received.
So yesterday I went to their AGM to congratulate them on their achievement, and to ask them what benefits the Living Wage is bringing them.
Before the “formal” business started, I chatted with Group Chief Executive Steve Foots. He described the Living Wage as a “no-brainer” for such a people-focussed company; and he was glad to share the good news around all areas of the company. Tracy Sheedy, Group HR Director told me that Croda’s commitment to the Living Wage had resulted in increasing wages and compliance across other local employers, which is great.
Then the formal business began. I steeled myself to ask my question – the first of several searching questions from the audience. I introduced the subject, and asked:
In what way do you see this positive investment in your employees as helping to deliver your strategy for the years ahead?
With Anita Frew, Group Chair of Croda International
Croda’s directors told me that they were very grateful ShareAction had brought the Living Wage to their attention. It shows the power of listening to shareholders, and they were very happy to move forward. On reviewing their workforce, they discovered that only 10 of their 1,000+ UK employees were paid under the living wage. This was unacceptable given their people culture, and something they sorted out immediately. Now they are working on making sure all their contractors also pay the Living Wage.
People are the most important asset to Croda, as it is People who deliver innovation. They’re proud to be “doing the right thing” and have noticed a morale boost, and the publicity it has generated has also been positive, particularly as they happen to be the 4,000th Living Wage employer.
Afterwards, I persuaded Anita Frew, Group Chair to agree to a selfie with me (thanks Anita!), and I celebrated with the Board and shareholders over posh nosh, in the similarly posh surroundings of the Pavilions of Harrogate.
I guess it just goes to show: Share Activism does make a difference!
TrainsComments Off on Interactive Map: British Driver Only Operation and Station Staffing
A co-campaigner has produced the following map from “my” Driver Only Operation and station facilities data. It shows the DOO/DCO status of British rail stations, their staffing, the presence of call points and their step-free status. Zoom in and select a station for more detail.
Driver Only and Staffing status of UK Stations. With thanks to Jeff for coding.
TrainsComments Off on Station accessibility across Britain mapped
A map showing the spatial distribution of stations with and without step-free access across Great Britain
This map takes step free access data for each of Great Britain’s 2,572 main-line railway stations as listed in Knowledgebase (the rail industry’s station information database) on 3rd February 2018. (There are actually 2,563 stations – the extra 9 in the database are bizarre anomalies such as including Elephant and Castle underground station.)
There are significant accuracy problems with the information in this database, particularly on step-free access. One significant problem is that the database’s owners (Rail Delivery Group) unilaterally eradicated the “partial step-free access” category in a cost-cutting exercise a couple of years ago (without changing the database specification…). In the process they designated “partially step free” stations (with step-free access to some platforms but not others) as being either entirely step-free or having no step-free access at all, without any clear method for said re-designation. Other accuracy issues include that station operating companies (mainly train operating companies and Network Rail) are… patchy in their compliance with their licensing obligation to make sure that this information is correct, and Rail Delivery Group are patchy in their technical processes for updating the database when station operators provide this information.
So the above isn’t 100% correct in detail. However, the overall impression it gives is correct.
A better version for people with colour-blindness (sorry, I should have thought of that!)
A map showing the spatial distribution of stations with and without step-free access across Great Britain, with better colour contrast for colour-blind people.
There are good examples of disabled people enforcing the duty to make reasonable adjustments. Noble Lords will no doubt have heard of the case of Mr Paulley, who has successfully enforced the Act on many occasions.
I wish to specifically refute that the Equality Act works for disabled people or that it is enforceable in any realistic manner by anybody.
Nearly all disabled people have little to no prospect of enforcing their rights under the Equality Act.
I go on to talk about some of the barriers disabled people experience that scupper any chance of enforcing their rights, including internalised oppression, no serious attempt at providing education, lack of personal assistance, the lack of legal representation, the impenetrable nature of the court system, lack of legal funding, the financial and other risks, the energy and other costs – to name but a few. I quoted Cloisters Chambers’ input into the Equality Bill,
Cloisters [Chambers] point out that in any event, relying upon individuals to bring about systemic change through individual litigation places a heavy burden upon disabled people who, in many instances, experience discrimination on a daily basis which it would be time consuming and exhausting to challenge on each and every occasion.
That is every bit as much the case now as it was when Cloisters said it in 2009.
Not only does the Equality Act not work for disabled people in general, it doesn’t work for me. It takes an inordinate amount of time and energy for me to take cases. It affects me profoundly. I risk financial ruination every time I take a case. I don’t always win, and even when I do, it doesn’t achieve anything like systematic change in service provision to disabled people.
Where was this? I hate being used as evidence the system works. It pigging doesn’t. Not even for the 0.001% of us who can take cases.
TrainsComments Off on 100% of Scotrail’s stations are accessible – official
Great news! It’s official! Scotrail’s assisted travel helpline told me so it must be true – All Scotrail’s stations are 100% accessible to all passengers, including wheelchair users!
Here’s the transcript – Scotrail’s in bold, I’m not:
All stations we deal with are all accessible for wheelchair users.
All Scotrail stations? That’s impressive.
Yes that is correct, all Scotrail stations are accessible for all our customers.
So there you go, Scotrail have evidently become the first operator (with more than 20 stations) to achieve 100% step free, accessible status.
Their station information pages must be incorrect. These pages state that 183 of their 354 stations (52%) have no step-free access to any part of the station. (Actually that’s not accurate either, but still, there patently are Scotrail platforms / whole stations without wheelchair access.)
The spreadsheet is current as of 3rd February 2018. (My spreadsheet can update the data, but I’ve removed this function from the spreadsheets here because the update mechanism uses my username and password for the National Rail Data Portal.)
One may wish to consider:
the proportion of stations that have step-free access, overall and by station operator
the proportion of stations that have toilets compared to the proportion of stations that have disabled toilets (“NKS toilets”, after the Radar National Key Scheme) or no information about disabled toilets
stations that have step free access and are staffed but don’t have train ramps available
stations with temporarily broken lifts, and when the data on the station was last updated
staffed stations which don’t offer staff assistance to disabled people
stations with car parks but no Blue Badge spaces and/or no suitable drop off point for disabled people
stations with contradictory information, such as stating both “Step-free access coverage: No part of station” and “Both platforms are fully accessible from the street“
The accessibility of the station is recorded in this database. This includes data such as the station operator’s help line number, whether and when the station is staffed, whether there’s a hearing loop, etc.
This information is crucial for disabled people to plan their journeys. As such, station operators are legally obliged to keep this information up to date. This is specified in their license, and is regulated by the Office for Rail and Road:
Train operators must provide up to date information about the accessibility of facilities and services at stations and on their trains on the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website. This includes the NRE’s Station Journey Planner (‘Stations Made Easy‘), as well as the train operators’ own website. Train operators must provide up to date information about the accessibility of facilities and services at stations and on their trains on the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) website. This includes the NRE’s Station Journey Planner (‘Stations Made Easy‘), as well as the train operators’ own website.
(Yes, I know that says the same thing twice; so does the ORR’s website. Perhaps they were emphasising the point.)
All hunky-dory in theory – but not in practice. The problem is threefold.
Station operators don’t make sure that accessibility information is correct, or that it is kept up to date.
Staff find it difficult to update said information due to technical problems.
There’s no clear definition about what the information in the database means anyway.
Step free access
Take, for example, the Knowledgebase field “Step Free Access Coverage”. This can have the values “wholeStation“, “partialStation“, “allPlatforms“, “noPartOfStation” or “unknown“.
To me, this is straightforward. It should say which bits of the station can be accessed without having to go up or down a step. However that’s not how many TOCs use this field. They use it as some approximate of “wheelchair friendliness“.
Some examples: In Northern’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy, the stations at Appleby, Burley Park, Cattal, Dent, Garsdale, Hexham, Knaresborough, Newcastle, Oxenholme, Ravenglass, Ribblehead, Skipton and Wakefield Kirkgate are all down as “Partial step-free access“; but I know it is possible to get to all parts of all these stations without going up or down a step. When I raised this with Northern, they said;
it may be the methodology used to categorise step free access that is the issue here. For example, if there is a ramp and it is over a certain level of steepness or if the step free route between platforms is over a certain length then it can result in a ‘Partial’ classification.
For Aviemore station, Scotrail say “<Coverage>noPartOfStation</Coverage>”. This is interpreted particularly starkly on their mobile website:
Screenshot of Aviemore station facilities page on the Scotrail website
I defy anybody to work out whether Aviemore station has step-free access based on that. Scotrail’s Assisted Travel team can’t. On September 25th after a long period on hold they said “I will have to find this out for you as it is not clear from the website” and offered to email me – but never did. When I rang again on 5th October, after another long period on hold they said “I was speaking with my supervisor and it doesn’t look like it is accessible on both sides.”
It has since transpired that there is full wheelchair access to all parts of Aviemore station; all parts of the station are accessible without having to go up or down a single step. (Getting from platform to platform without steps involves a long walk by road so it’s generally best to make sure you get dropped off at the right entrance for the train you’re wanting to catch.) So why does it say “Step free access coverage: No part of station“? Scotrail’s Head of Access and Inclusion eventually told me:
Mr Paulley It says ‘No’ to Step-free coverage simply because one cannot access all platforms from one single entry point.
So that makes complete sense, then. Honest.
They have since said:
ScotRail is experiencing difficulties with updating the ‘Step-free access coverage’ section due to a technical issue with the NRE website, which is only allowing for ScotRail to tick ‘Yes/No’ for this field without the option to edit text. This is an issue that can only be addressed by Rail Delivery Group, which ScotRail has requested be addressed as quickly as possible.
The Definition of Step Free
I thought: enough’s enough; let’s find out what “Step Free Access Coverage” actually means. As Rail Delivery Group hosts Knowledgebase and its schema, I thought they would be able to tell me what that field means. So I asked them in a “Freedom of Information” request (though they aren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act):
Knowledgebase has a field for “step free access coverage”. Stations are variously listed as having “full”, “partial” or “no” step-free access.
Please provide me with the definitions and criteria for these descriptors.
For example, what does “step free” mean? Does it mean that there are literally no steps, such that a station can still be wheelchair inaccessible e.g. through narrow passageways or over-steep slopes? Or are these other factors (though not about steps) included when considering how to categorise stations in this respect?
Also: what does “full”, “partial” or “none” mean? Does “full” mean fully compliant with Part M(1) and the PRM-TSI(2), or does it mean there are no steps? I know of a station where level access is available to all parts of the station but the TOC has marked it as “partially” step free because it’s a very long way round from platform to platform (or a barrow crossing), yet another TOC has marked another station with similar access as “none”.
Please provide the “official” definitions of what this field and the options in it actually mean.
In answer to your question regarding the definitions of ‘step-free’ access to stations, this is defined by each TOC separately. So, as you point out, one TOC might state ‘full step-free access’ whereas another will state only ‘partially’ because of things like barrow crossings or physically long step-free routes. These station pages are also updated by individuals who may use variations in their terms used. In order for you to get a more accurate answer for each, my advice is to contact each TOC separately.
TL;DR: “station operators are free to interpret it in any way they like and make it up as they go along” and “if you want to know what Step Free means you’ll have to ask each station operator“.
There are 31 train operating companies in the UK, most of whom operate stations; and Network Rail operate some stations themselves. I wouldn’t mind betting that the accessibility information has been provided by over 50 different people, with over 50 different interpretations as to what precisely “step free access coverage” means.
The effect is discriminatory
The problem is this information is crucial. For me to be able to travel to or from a station, or to change at it, I have to know that I will be able to enter / exit / change there without having to go up and down steps.
The reason I was looking up Aviemore was because I am thinking of going on respite care to Badaguish. I don’t have a car and I don’t drive, so trains are best for me. Badaguish’s website says “Nearest train station: Aviemore, with taxis available to Badaguish”. But how was I supposed to know whether I can physically use Aviemore station? I couldn’t trust the accessibility information, which is self-contradictory in any case; and Scotrail’s help line uses the same information, leaving them similarly confused.
Any non-disabled person can have relative certainty that they can use any station in Britain. But only 20% of stations are fully accessible. The very least the industry could do is make sure that said access information is standardised, accurate and comprehensive. But they don’t.
Finding accurate and comprehensive information for a station is like trying to plait fog.
Disabled travelers suffer difficult and frustrating bookings as a result – or can’t even face trying to book in the first place.
TrainsComments Off on Northern’s assistance booking
Arriva Rail North’s logo (corrected)
Wheelchair users travelling by train are asked to book assistance for ramps etc. But disabled people frequently experience substantial difficulties when booking, caused by train operating companies’ failures in information and procedure.
This is a recurring problem across all train operating companies, but Carillion – the company Arriva Rail North subcontracts to make such bookings – are the worst I’ve experienced. (And that’s saying something.)
Northern and Carillion
Northern Rail’s assisted travel booking and customer relations staff were all based in Leeds. When Arriva took over the franchise, they told them all to move to a Sheffield call centre, or leave. Understandably a lot left, and tooktheir experience and expertise with them.
Arriva Rail North advertised their new assistance booking line as being open 24 hours, 363 days a year. They outsourced this function to Carillion, a rail infrastructure maintenance company. Carillion had never dealt with assistance booking before. The results were predictable.
Yesterday evening is a case in point. I wanted to book assistance for two simple journeys: Skipton to Hexham changing Carlisle, and Hexham to York changing Newcastle.
The telephone call took 1 hour 6 minutes. Even then the assistance wasn’t successfully booked.
Untrained, inexperienced staff with no backup
The reason for this is that the booking staff member had never taken a booking before. He had only worked in the organisation for two weeks. He had watched colleagues booking assistance and been given the script to use, then he had been put straight onto the assistance booking line. It seemed like he had never been trained how to take bookings, and certainly not formally trained.
I was his first ever assistance booking (God help him!) There was nobody else he could ask because he was on his own; there were no bosses or other assistance booking staff on shift. He was very nervous and made many mistakes (understandably). Talk about being thrown in at the deep end…
After the hour-plus attempting to book the assistance, he had to admit defeat, because he was unable to book the wheelchair space on Virgin Trains East Coast. He said he would get somebody else to sort the booking and email me this morning at 8am. (Unsurprisingly, I haven’t had that email.)
To book assistance please call our dedicated freephone number (also free to mobiles), 0800 138 5560. Lines are open 24 hours a day, every day that we are running.
We can book assistance for your whole rail journey, even where part of the journey is with other train operators.
That’s plainly not true, because they do not deliver on their promises.
Since Arriva took over the franchise, I’ve had the following problems.
A weekend of all calls to the line being cut off after the recorded introduction
Staff not being able to use Passenger Assist
Staff not knowing how to use text relay
Staff booking alternative taxis for inaccessible stations, from firms tens of miles away who don’t know the area
Staff telling me to do a 100 mile round trip to get round a closed line, because the rail replacement bus they’d booked was inaccessible.
Staff refusing to book assistance unless I had first bought a ticket, making me pay more than I would be charged if I bought the ticket on the day (rail rovers etc.)
Staff telling me I would have to pay for the rail replacement taxi because their rail replacement bus was not wheelchair accessible
Staff unable to find out whether scheduled services hauled by Tornado had a wheelchair space
Staff being unable to book wheelchair spaces on connecting companies’ services
Staff telling me I had been banned from booking assistance because I have attempted to book wheelchair spaces on Northern’s services, whereas I have never done that. The staff member had misinterpreted an instruction to flag my assistance bookings for checking by a manager due to the number of erroneous bookings I had experienced.
Multiple other incidents.
I have brought this shabby and unacceptable treatment to the attention of senior managers in Northern a number of times, but it hasn’t improved – in fact yesterday’s abortive assistance booking demonstrates it is getting worse.
We can have no confidence that the booking has been made correctly, so we are left sweating throughout the journey – will the wheelchair space be booked by somebody else and unavailable? Will the person with ramps turn up or will we be unwillingly carried along until the terminus? Non-disabled people can plan and book their journey in seconds or minutes, with relative confidence they can carry out their journey. Through the common contempt organisations like Northern demonstrate for services for disabled people, we are obliged to expend considerable time, energy and dogged determination to plan, book and carry out the same journey.