Lack of disabled access to Parliament highlights wider problem of access

Lisa Nandy MP writes about the problems disabled visitors face when trying to access Parliament - access problems that occur to buildings and transport everywhere.

By Lisa Nandy MP (Labour, Wigan)

Yesterday I asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to investigate why, last week, people with disabilities left Parliament feeling disappointed – and in some cases humiliated – after trying to attend a debate on disabled access to public transport.

Watch my question, and the Speaker’s reply:

The response from the House authorities has been swift and genuine. The constraints of the Parliamentary building are obvious and on so many occasions the House staff rise to the challenges it presents.

The fact that we, collectively, fell short on this occasion makes me wonder, not about the will of the staff involved who are clearly dedicated to ensuring access for all, but about whether in 2011 we have outgrown a building that cannot cater easily for the 12 million people with disabilities in the UK.

Sadly, the response from the House of Commons is not always replicated elsewhere. Nearly 16 years after the Disability Discrimination Act that offered hope to people across the country, many of my constituents are still unable to get on a train or a bus to take part in activities that many of us take for granted – going to work, shopping or seeing friends.

In advance of last week’s debate I was inundated with stories of people left stranded, unable to get on or off trains and buses. Nearly half of all train stations do not have level access, London Underground remains largely a no-go area for people in wheelchairs and people whose disabilities are not obvious told me they had been questioned to a humiliating degree about their concessionary pass.

Running through all of these stories like a thread was a common story of humiliation and anxiety that is entirely inappropriate in 2011.

Yet despite progress urgently needed, there is a risk this situation is not getting better, but worse. With cancelled station upgrades, ticket office closures and abolished concessionary fares, it is not at all clear that by 2020 we will even have met the most basic requirements promised to people by legislation passed 16 years ago.

It would be relatively easy to solve this situation. government has enormous purchasing power – nearly half of bus operating revenue comes from the taxpayer and train company franchises are constantly renewed. It is time we took this seriously and made it our top priority.

Early next year the West Coast Mainline franchise is renewed. This will be the first key test for government since the promises made in last week’s debate and I am seeking a commitment disabled access will be a priority for the successful company. Action on this issue is long overdue and for 12 million people in the UK it simply cannot wait.

See also:

Yet another nasty in the welfare bill: Means testing support for the disabled-since-youthDeclan Gaffney, September 22nd 2011

Disabled people fear further impoverishment as cuts begin to hitKaliya Franklin, September 1st 2011

Help stop government changes to welfare penalising disabled childrenSam Royston, August 15th 2011

The three things Cameron should know about sickness and disability benefitsDeclan Gaffney, July 27th 2011

DWP admits disability reform based on dodgy figures, as reported by Left Foot ForwardDeclan Gaffney, August 11th 2011

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