People with Disabilities: Access to Services - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 1:07 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Ceidwadwyr 1:07, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, on securing such an important debate. I agree with all previous speakers that we need much longer to discuss these issues, in more detail and more often, both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. If my noble friend the Minister was unaware of the lived experience of disabled people in the UK today at the beginning of this debate, he will not be now, so I will cut to the chase on employment and education.

If you are a disabled person in the UK, you are far less likely to have a good experience in education, to gain employment, to keep that employment if gained and, if kept, to receive a comparable level of pay to your non-disabled colleagues. Can my noble friend say what the current education gap is for disabled people at key stage 2, GCSE and A-level? What is the current employment gap for disabled people? What is the current disability pay gap? This thread runs through all elements of a disabled person’s lived experience, writ large through employment and education. If there is not that opportunity, as there is for every single person in society, to get it right the first time in education, life is made so avoidably difficult from that point onwards.

When will the EHCP system become equitable, accessible and resolvable in reasonable time and not just a matter of lottery or ability to pay for professionals to help you through a process that should be open to all those who need it?

We have heard about the difficulties with employment and education, but what about if you are not even able to get to your job, or if you are so stressed and done in by the journey to get to work that it feels like you have done your day’s work before you have even arrived? We come to the question of transport, and the lived experience of disabled people of what passes for public transport in the UK today.

Will my noble friend the Minister commit from the Dispatch Box today—why not?—to having a moratorium on floating bus stops? For noble Lords who may be unaware, these are bus stops that are essentially stuck in the middle of the road, with a cycle lane between the bus stop and the pavement. How can a disabled person—any person—effectively, efficiently and, crucially, safely access the bus? It is a planning folly: a planning disaster. Can we commit today that buses can only pick up and drop off from the kerbside? This needs to be urgently resolved.

I turn to taxis, another critical part of our public transport infrastructure, though seldom treated by the department in policy terms as that critical part of public transport, not least for disabled people. This very morning, the planning committee in the City of London is deciding whether to recommend that Bank junction should be reopened to black cabs. Its proposal is that the ban on black cabs at Bank junction continues. Why? There is no safety reason; black cabs have never been involved in a collision at Bank junction. It is planning folly and not evidence-based. Will my noble friend write to the City Corporation, reminding it of its equality duties, not least under the public sector equality duty, and urge it to reconsider reopening Bank to black cabs—yes, on a trial basis, to assess how it will go? The Court of Common Council will decide this on 20 June, and it is in everybody’s interests, not least those of disabled people, that we have black cabs being allowed to go back through Bank junction, because the message it sends right across the country is that cabs matter as a part of public transport. Ditto for Tottenham Court Road; if my noble friend could write to Camden council, that would be appreciated as well, while he has his pen out—or indeed his laptop, or whatever means of communication he chooses.

We do not have public transport in this country; we have transport that is accessible to certain sections of the public—partial public transport, if you will. For disabled people, be it buses, rail or indeed the absolute nonsense of so-called “shared space”, transport is at best patchy. I ask my noble friend the Minister: when will it be in this country that disabled people can experience accessible transport—whichever mode, at whatever time and whenever they choose, like everybody else, to turn up and seek to use it? Can my noble friend report on the so-called “shared space” experiments; we have managed to achieve a moratorium on future shared space, but how are the existing schemes going? They effectively plan out disabled people from their local communities.

Floating bus stops, taxis and shared space—all are problematic for disabled people, and all are resolvable. Then there is education, particularly the potential for personalised education. On employment, it is entirely resolvable to have similar rates of educational attainment and employment for disabled people. These issues are all entirely resolvable if we just start from the key principle: inclusive by design, accessible by all. I ask my noble friend the Minister: when will all government policies be able to pass those tests—inclusive by design, accessible by all? Fundamentally, all we are talking about here is talent: all of that phenomenal talent in all disabled people, up and down and across the UK. We still suffer from this tragic truth—talent is everywhere; opportunity, currently, is not.