My Lords, local authorities are required to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations under Section 149(1) of the Equality Act 2010. In relation to the transport barriers that can hinder disabled people getting to work, this Government are committed to ensuring that disabled people have the same access to transport and opportunities to travel as everyone else.
My Lords, it is not enough to be committed. The Green Paper sets out complicated inducements and a target for reducing disability unemployment which is for ever receding into the distance. Right now, the Government could require local authorities to, for example, mandate disability training for bus and taxi drivers and have a certain percentage of accessible taxis available for disabled people. They could make sure that local authorities revoke licences where taxi drivers will not take guide dogs. These simple issues will enable people to get to work.
My Lords, the Government are taking action, as those who participated in—for example—the recent Bus Services Bill will have witnessed. Practical actions are being taken on improving accessibility for disabled people, and that Bill, which has left your Lordships’ House, will initiate a very practical programme of changes. The noble Baroness is right to raise the important issue of accessibility in taxis. In the country as a whole, only 56% of taxis are accessible, but the Government are looking at specific schemes, including one in Birmingham which provides the kind of training she alluded to. On the issue of those refusing access to the disabled or to those who require guide dogs, the Government are specifically looking at Sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act. We will consider this very carefully and consult on the guidance to ensure that anyone who discriminates in this way against disabled people is covered. We will look at sanctions under the law, including making it a criminal offence.
My Lords, declaring my interest as the father of a Down’s syndrome daughter who lives and works in a Camphill community, could I suggest that the Government encourage local authorities to support many more such places, which are care effective and cost effective, and which can provide a complete way of life, including daily work elsewhere? Surely the Government must agree that this sort of life is often just not available under other forms of care in the community, which can be very lonely and unfulfilling, not to mention very expensive.
Of course the Government are concerned about ensuring a joined-up approach. The noble Lord may be aware that there is a specific consultation within the Department for Work and Pensions, for example, and that a Green Paper has been issued looking at the joined-up approach to work health to ensure that all systems across the board are joined up. We are also looking at the Total Transport initiative specifically across 37 rural areas in England, to see how we can ensure that transport is effective and easily accessible to those in hard-to-reach areas in the country.
My Lords, will the Minister also speak to his colleagues in the DWP about the fact that the accessibility of public transport was not mentioned in the Green Paper on halving the disability employment rate? It should be a vital part of the whole infrastructure of getting disabled people into work. The Access to Work scheme is very good, but it cannot do everything.
I am of course happy to do that along with my colleagues from the DWP; the very diligent Minister in this House from the DWP will take note of that. I assure the noble Baroness that the Green Paper is there to be consulted on. If there are practical suggestions as to how this can be improved, the Government are of course listening.
My Lords, what are the Government doing about London transport, where there are far too many Underground stations where less able people have no access to the platforms, either by escalator or elevator? That is really appalling as far as getting to work is concerned.
According to the statistics on passenger accessibility, London is much better than other parts of the country, but my noble friend raises important issues about the accessibility of platforms in certain parts of the London transport network. TfL has a programme to ensure that that can be delivered in accordance with the needs of all the travelling public, including those who need to travel to work and suffer from disabilities.
My Lords, the Independent Living Strategy Group has identified and reported that one in four people has experienced a decrease in paid work or volunteering because of cuts to local authorities’ independent living support in the last 12 months. What are the Government doing to ensure that local authorities have the resources to address this important barrier to work?
The Minister referred to the improvements that, frankly, we secured to the Bus Services Bill to make bus services more accessible to disabled people. Bearing in mind that he has cited that as an example of what he believes the Government are doing, even though they were heavily pushed from this side, why can they not do more in respect of other forms of transport to ensure likewise that they become more accessible to disabled people?
The noble Lord is being less than magnanimous on the Government’s position during the passage of the Bus Services Bill, but I will let others be the judge of that on reading Hansard. With regard to other modes of transport, various consultations are under way and I have alluded to one or two of them. I suggest to the noble Lord that he participates fully in those.