23 January 2017

Equality down the pan

Disabled_toilet_not_main

Consistency. It’s not an exciting word, is it? But when it comes to providing public services, it is the most important one. In the world’s sixth richest country, should we in the UK expect to be able to access reasonable services?

We should. But when it goes wrong, it can do so spectacularly.

You may have read about the experience of Paralympian, Anne Wafula Strike on her train journey with Cross Country from Nuneaton to Harlow (2 hours 48 minutes). Anne went public about the incident which, due to no accessible toilet on the train, and no staff at an interim station to allow her to use facilities there, she was forced to urinate herself. Despite the humiliation, Anne decided to go public about the story.

She said ‘Having access to a toilet, especially in a developed nation like the UK, is one of the most basic rights. As a disabled person I have worked so hard over the years to build up my confidence and self-belief.’ Drawing on the social model of disability Anne further commented, ‘I may have an impairment but the barriers society puts in my path are the real handicap.’

In the UK we have become wearily used to the vagaries of privatised -yet- taxpayer-supported so-called ‘public’ transport. Part of the 2010 Equality Act puts a public equality duty on public authorities. This requires them to consider the needs of people in certain minority groups, including people with disabilities. Transport, despite being outsourced to private companies, is a public service. But how are such profit-making service providers held to account? And without consistent enforcement of equality law, what is to stop this kind of incident happening again (and again)?

It is good to see what within a couple of weeks there has been Government follow up but responding in an ad hoc way to extreme incidents like this is not good enough and an inefficient use of resources, like plugging a small hole in a dam rather than looking at the whole structure. The damage an incident like this does to the individual, to their confidence and belief that they are as good as anyone else in society is incalculable. Bigger questions need to be asked about the law and particularly the public equality duty and how to give it teeth.

Finally do you have a diversity ‘clanger’ or success story you would like to share via our website and newsletter? Get in touch if so!

Read more clangers.

 
 
 
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