A disabled campaigner has delivered a hand-written letter to the front door of 10 Downing Street, pleading with the prime minister to address the “serious” and unlawful discrimination she has experienced on the railway network.
Sam Jennings wrote the three-page letter as she waited outside the gates of Downing Street with other disabled activists to deliver a petition demanding action on destaffing across the rail network (see separate story).
Jennings (pictured) told Rishi Sunak in her letter that in the five years since becoming a powerchair-user she had repeatedly been denied assistance when travelling on the rail network, and was left stranded on trains and station platforms more than 30 times.
The repeated discrimination eventually led to a high-profile legal victory, and a £17,000 compensation award from rail company Southern.
But she told Sunak in her letter that the “bad attitude” and “indifference” she had experienced before the legal action had not been eradicated and she was recently refused assistance at her local station because the dedicated member of assistance staff was “on his break”, despite there being numerous other staff on duty.
She told the prime minister that the rail industry appeared to believe it was exempt from its responsibilities under the Equality Act.
She added: “I think the Department for Transport is complicit in systemic and routine disability discrimination. This is happening on your watch.”
She told him: “I am one person out of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.
“If this was one person’s experience then it is very clear to me that we have massive issues in the rail industry.
“It’s public transport. It’s 2023. It should be accessible.”
She highlighted in her letter how Network Rail had now installed a new inaccessible footbridge, at Wistanstow, Shropshire, which she said was “discriminatory and unlawful”.
She wrote: “I should not be disabled by the railway, and I will not accept being othered and literally excluded by design.”
She told Sunak she was planning to share “folders and folders of evidence” of discrimination with the inquiry launched earlier this month by the Commons transport committee.
And she asked the prime minister if she could meet him to discuss her evidence.
Even when she delivered the letter, she still encountered access barriers, due to the government’s continuing refusal to install a step-free entrance to 10 Downing Street, other than inappropriate temporary ramps.
Jennings was unable to knock on the door herself, and had to ask her MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, to do it for her.
She then had to hand over her letter from the pavement because the temporary ramps used by Downing Street would not allow her space to turn around and pose for a picture at the door, like other campaigners who deliver petitions.
She told DNS: “I wanted to knock on that door myself and made this very clear.
“They need to have a custom-made ramp that isn’t ridiculously steep.
“I understand some historic buildings can’t be taken apart and I accept that the steps are pretty iconic, the whole door is, but if they don’t want to level it out permanently then they need to have a custom ramp made so that wheelchair-users can knock on the door themselves and not be excluded.”
A spokesperson for Number 10 said the government would respond to her letter in due course.
He added: “Everyone should be able to travel with confidence and the safety of passengers will [be] central to any reforms to the railways.
“Our Access for All programme has delivered step free accessible routes at over 200 stations [since 2006], with additional improvements at over 1,500 stations.
“By modernising the railway and moving staff out of ticket offices, we can enable them to provide more face-to-face assistance, so all passengers get the help they need.”
Number 10 declined to comment on the continuing concerns about the lack of proper step-free access to the front entrance.
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