Christiansen adds her voice to DLA transport fears


theweek120by150One of the stars of London 2012 has told MPs that government cuts to disability living allowance (DLA) risk making it even harder for disabled people to find work, because of the inaccessibility of public transport.

Sophie Christiansen, who won three equestrian gold medals at last summer’s Paralympics, told members of the transport select committee that she relied on her Motability vehicle, which like hundreds of thousands of other disabled people she pays for with her DLA mobility component.

She told the committee, which is conducting an inquiry into disabled people’s access to transport: “The message the government is sending is for more disabled people to get into employment and get off benefits, but how can they when they can’t get to work in the first place?

“I rely on my [Motability car] for everything, to get out, and I use my car when I can’t access public transport.”

Christiansen was one of four disabled campaigners who gave evidence to the committee this week.

Tanvi Vyas, campaigns officer for the Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, said the DLA cuts could mean many more disabled people turning to public transport because they were no longer eligible for the Motability scheme.

But George Fielding, chair of the Kidz Board at the charity Whizz-Kidz, which “provides disabled children with the essential wheelchairs and other mobility equipment they need”, declined to comment on the impact of the change from DLA to the new personal independence payment (PIP) on the mobility of disabled people.

He told the committee: “I can’t comment. It is not something Whizz-Kidz has expertise in.”

Christiansen was highly critical of the accessibility of the public transport system.

She told the MPs that the need to book rail assistance 24 hours in advance “takes away spontaneity and flexibility”.

She added: “Many users have to sit on the train and just wait and see whether they get help at their station. It’s really unreliable.”

Christiansen told the MPs she believed that taxi-drivers were more willing to stop and get their ramps out for wheelchair-users since the Paralympics, while having trained staff on hand to support disabled people at the start and end of train journeys during London 2012 pointed the way to a “key legacy we could have from the games”.

But she said physical access was “still the key”, and raised fears that the giant Crossrail project across London might not be completely accessible, even though it was a new project and “access should be at the forefront of new planning provision”.

Christiansen said she was “very disappointed” that the Paralympics had not led to bigger improvements in the number of accessible stations.

She said: “I am very aware how expensive putting a lift in is, but other transport networks around the world are a million light years in front of us.

“I went to Vienna last year and their underground is perfect and I came back absolutely disgusted by London underground. I think we should be learning from other countries, quite frankly.”

Marije Davidson, policy and research manager for Disability Rights UK, told the committee that there was “inconsistency” in the levels of accessibility and reliability of public transport across the country.

She said it was “very important” to involve disabled people in making sure public transport was accessible.

And she said: “What is really important to bear in mind is that it may be OK for a disabled person to make a journey if it involves just one mode of transport, but if it involves train… bus… tube, it becomes very, very hard because there may be a weak link.”

Fielding said he now felt confident using all forms of public transport, and claimed that “the majority of the problems we have are attitudinal”.

He agreed that the rail assistance scheme was not “consistently reliable”, but added: “I believe that once you get to know the people who work at stations and bus stops you are absolutely fine.”

When asked later by Disability News Service why the charity did not want to comment on the DLA reforms – which will see the number of working-age people claiming DLA and PIP cut by as much as 28 per cent by 2018 – a Whizz-Kidz spokesman declined to comment.

13 March 2013