Social distancing: The credibility and equality gaps

The gap between theory and reality on social distancing

Whilst the nation is in lockdown and struggles with social distancing, our politicians continue to provide mixed messages and argue amongst themselves. They are hardly doing the best for the country.
Coronavirus is killing people.

However, it would appear that some people don’t seem to understand or care. Many people are still choosing to go out when they don’t have to do so. Even after the lockdown was put in place on Monday 23 March 2020 police were dealing with people having barbecues, of all things. In one of our local parks police were breaking up a group of young people playing football. It is sad and beyond awful that we have to stop these things, but the fewer events like this we have the more lives we will save and the quicker it will be over.

Stay at home and save lives

Intensive care specialist, Professor Hugh Montgomery, gives you the maths of what you are doing if you are going out when you don’t need to do so.

 

Public transport contributes to the spread of coronavirus/ COVID-19

What is truly unbelievable is the situation with public transport in London. We have seen the pictures of crowded London Underground trains. People cannot be 50cm away from one another let alone 2 metres. Boris Johnson said that people should only travel if they could not work from home. This includes construction workers. These are not the key workers, they are builders, architects, surveyors and health and safety experts, the irony. London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that he has told Boris Johnson that he needs to protect construction workers so they don’t go to sites. Now, whilst Government needs to provide equal protection for the employed and self-employed of the country, the matter is that they cannot work from home but they are not key workers. Every other sector is affected, so why is construction being seen as exempt?

Not all construction workers are the white van drivers that perhaps the Government think they are. Many take public transport. Yesterday (24 March 2020) Both Barrett and Taylor Wimpey shut all their sites, saying it was the right thing to do. Bovis and Linden Homes, both now part of Vistry Group, announced they were also decommissioning their sites. At the point of publishing, other house building companies such as Redrow and the Berkeley Group announced that they had stringent hygiene practices in place but did not address the travel issues.

Johnson has said construction can continue if workers are able to work 2 metres apart but anyone travelling on public transport cannot do that. He has stopped short of making it clear that these workers must NOT go to work.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said “Tube services should be running “in full”, when asked about packed trains on Tuesday. Yet more confusion and lack of single message from Government.

First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, shows greater leadership than Johnson, yesterday (24 March 2020) calling for and making the tough decisions. Coronavirus: Who is allowed to go to work during ‘lockdown’?

Yvette Cooper is right and it’s not happening.

Rail workers send message

ASLEF placed a message to the UK from its members. On behalf of rail workers Mick Whelan, ASLEF; Mick Cash, RMT; Manuel Cortes, TSSA; Diana Holland, Unite spoke of not being able to work at home but wanting to help the country fight the pandemic. They asked the public to think about whether their journey was essential. It also said it was calling on the Government to do more to help those being forced to make risky decisions.

“We know that many people, who are not traditionally employed, whether self-employed, on zero-hour contracts, or working in the gig economy, feel they have no choice but to go to work because of their financial situation. If they do not go to work they cannot pay the rent or put food on the table. That’s why we are calling on the government to do far more to help these workers. No one should be putting themselves, and others, in danger because of the financial risks of not taking a journey.”

Transport for London

I asked Transport for London (TfL) for a comment.

Vernon Everitt, TfL’s Managing Director of Customers, Communication and Technology, said: “To save lives, everyone must follow the Government and Mayor’s instructions to stay at home and only travel if absolutely essential. Only critical workers should be using public transport and no one else.”

This is interesting because the Government and the Mayor were/are giving conflicting advice as outlined above.

TfL went onto say:

“We thank those acting on that which has brought passenger journeys on the Tube down by around 87 per cent. But to save lives and enable critical NHS and other workers to use our reduced services, more people need to stop travelling right now.”

Why is TFL putting the onus on passengers? The pictures of crowded tubes today are horrendous. Perhaps they all are key workers? Had anyone checked? Will the police be at tube stations to disperse the groups and find out who should be there? Will TfL simply put on more trains to stop encouraging the virus spreading, which it is currently doing to the dismay of everyone, except, it would appear, TfL?

Whilst more trains are made available, checks can be made as to who should be on those trains, they should be sent home and THEN the trains can be decreased. What trains are running? Have they not learnt from Italy where they reduced and put back services? Why does TfL seem to be contributing to the spread of the virus?

I put all these points to TfL and was only told:

“We are operating as many trains as we can but with staff self-isolating it is not possible to operate a full service. With regards on who is using our network we can only encourage people to follow Government guidance to only make journeys that are absolutely necessary as per the announcement.” [on 23 March 2020].

I put these issues to ASLEF, the train drivers’ union. Finn Brennan, ASLEF’s organiser on London Underground, said: “We don’t need more trains on London Underground, we need fewer passengers. As MPs vote to leave their own place of work today, it is disgraceful that the government puts key workers’ lives at risk by refusing to close other non-essential workplaces.”

Lack of responses and lack of clarity

I asked the Department for Transport, Department of Health, The London Mayor’s Office and the department for Housing, Communities and Local Government for comment and had still received no reply 2 days later.

ASLEF

On Monday (23 March 2020) Finn Brennan, ASLEF’s full-time organiser on London Underground, told members on Monday night that they were public servants and had a duty to keep the service running and that everyone who drove a train was a hero.

“It is a huge relief that the Government has done the right thing at last and brought in much tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Coranavirus.
There are still ambiguities; no clear definition of “essential”; no clarity on if construction sites will close; but this is a big step forward that will help reduce numbers travelling on the Underground.”

British Transport Police

I asked the British Transport Police what they thought of the situation and the fact that their officers would be put in danger of the virus too.
They did not provide an answer to the questions but did provide a statement that was put out on social media last night (24 March 2020).

Assistant Chief Constable,Sean O’Callaghan, said: “The measures announced by the Prime Minister are there to save lives which is part of the work our officers do every day. We are supporting rail operators and those key workers making their journeys home tonight by deploying 500 officers across the rail network nationally.

“They will be patrolling stations, supporting railway staff and reminding the public of the urgent need to follow the government advice – only those making essential journeys for work should be using the Tube and rail network.

“We strongly urge the rest of the public to do the right thing and help us save lives by staying at home and slowing the spread of the virus.

“Passengers can expect to be spoken to by officers and asked why they are travelling, and anyone who is not an essential worker will be given strong advice not to travel in order to save lives. British policing is founded on respect and engagement with the public. We resolve issues daily by talking to people and reasoning with them and that will continue. We are confident they will listen.”

Let’s hope they are right, because so far there are a lot of people who think their jobs are more important than possibly killing people.

What’s special about construction?

Harsh decisions but every non-essential key worker is affected except in one sector, construction.

Message for Johnson and Khan

This situation is quite ridiculous. It would be laughable if it weren’t a matter of life or death. Johnson needs to be clear and say non-essential workers do not travel. Non-essential construction sites need to close.

Yes it will be difficult financially for many, like it is for so many of the self-employed, and we need to trust that the Government will treat everyone equally. But, quite simply, the fewer people travelling will mean fewer deaths. It is time Johnson showed some decent leadership and stopped trying to be “nice” and allowing people to travel. They can’t. It is literally killing people and we need to restrict travelling on public transport to our key workers to protect them and the country. Now.

Cabinet Office

Statement from the media office. “The advice is absolutely clear -- people should stay at home if possible. If they must travel, they are asked to ensure they keep themselves at a 2m distance from anyone else.”

Again no one addressing the fact that people are not abiding by this rule on transport.

The predicted future

The Government has said it is preparing the country for 20,000 deaths. This is IF people follow the advice and they are not. Too many people are travelling and meeting in groups.

If you travel or know of anyone travelling and not keeping more than 2m apart be in no doubt you will be contributing to that figure one way or another. So as it stands this is just the beginning and we will go over that figure.

The Government has said it is preparing for 20k deaths.Anyone who has been to the Excel knows the place is huge.You…

Posted by The Complaining Cow on Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Letter from the Prime Minister

Update 29/03/20. The PM has written to every household. PM letter to nation on coronavirus. (Please make sure you wash your hands after recycling the letter and envelope!) He tells people to stay at home and only travel to work if they can’t work from home. Yet again failing to say if you cannot abide by the 2m rule when travelling you must stay at home. Why? Why is he actively contributing to the spread of the virus? Expecting people to do the right thing? Many won’t. Health before finance and doing the right things before killing someone.

You catch it on the tube which is highly likely, you give it to someone vulnerable or even to someone else who gives it to someone vulnerable. If you get it and you have been travelling on public transport you will need to live with the thought that your actions may have killed someone. It IS that serious.

Can people live with that? Are people living with that? How?

Help reduce deaths, force the decision makers to make the right decision and quickly

Are you vulnerable? Know someone who is? Then you will want to the Government to take action to reduce the likelihood of their death from this virus. Here’s how you can help put pressure on the Government to do the right thing.

You could share this article on social media.

I will be emailing a link to this article in individual tailored emails to my MP, The Secretary of State for Transport, The London Mayor, The Department for Transport and the Department for Health demanding action is taking to save lives instead of contributing to deaths.

Here are the contact details if you want to save lives too. Write to one or more separately.

Email your MP

Email Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport and shappsg@parliament.uk

Email the London Mayor

Email the Secretary for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock

Sample text for email

Dear

I am writing to you regarding the ongoing lack of clarity regarding travel. The Government has said people can travel if they can’t work at home. This is largely the construction sector which is not an essential service unless they are working on medical facilities. Those in this sector are understandably worried about their jobs but it is the last remaining sector left to be hit. This also contradicts the advice regarding only travelling if your journey is essential. Key workers and only key workers job are essential.

We need clarity on this issue and the country told that only key workers are allowed on public transport and anyone not a key workers found to be travelling on public transport will be fined.

More details about this issue can be found in the article Social distancing: The credibility and equality gaps

I trust that immediate action will be taken

Yours sincerely

Transport for London unmoved on issue of equality

Transport for London failing in providing services with equality

It’s 2018 and 8 years since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010. You may be forgiven for thinking that companies and organisations had got their act together and were ensuring that all services were accessible. However, recent investigations into London Underground (LU) show there is much work to be done to improve services.

Alison and a guide dog struggle to use a tube due to LT service

Let’s loAlison dressed in black trouser ad black patterned top with her guide dogok at just one case. Last year Alison travelled from Walthamstow Central to Oxford Circus on the Underground with her sister-in-law Claire. Alison’s guide dog is not escalator trained. At most Underground stations, there is a choice of escalators or stairs. At Oxford Circus there are three escalators but no stairs or lift.  A fellow passenger saw that they needed help and offered her assistance in carrying the guide dog up the escalator.

Claire then went onto St Paul’s where a member of LU staff told her to ‘phone customer services and inform them of time of travel back as it may be possible to stop the escalator so they could walk down. After ten minutes on hold, Claire gave up. At Oxford Circus another member of staff also said it may be possible to stop the escalator but at the discretion of the station manager. Alison needed to get back to Kings Cross but the Station Manager refused to stop the escalator as 5.00pm was a busy period. The nearest station was Green Park and not convenient. Alison and Claire got a cab to Kings Cross where the driver waived part of the fare.

“Switching off one out of three possible escalators to allow a blind passenger with their guide dog to walk down would not have caused any inconvenience to other passengers as they still would have had the option to walk down or wait for an escalator.  The time that it would have taken us to walk down the escalator would have been approximately five minutes, however this was deemed too inconvenient” says Claire.

Public opinion on whether the escalator should be turned off to help a blind person travel

A recent poll on Facebook showed overwhelmingly that the general public agreed with her. People were asked if they would object to one of the 3 escalators being stopped for five minutes to allow an untrained guide dog and its owner to walk up or down the stairs.

Lots of people on FB saying they would not object to the escalator being stoppedOthers, although significantly outnumbered said they would object were worried about overcrowding and safety, particularly at this station.

FB comment about the station being too busy so would be dangerous from overcrowding

FB comment object to stopping escalator but policy should be clear

guide dog owner comment on FB safety issue as escalator takes time to stop and start and narrow platform can cause safety concern if no overcrowding should stop

However, others were just as pragmatic, saying little different to finding an escalator broken.

FB comment no different to escalator being out of ordercomment people will always complain e.g. two women gave birth on train and people complained about delay!

 

A tube driver who wanted to remain anonymous said “To be honest, they seem more interested in targets and budgets rather than caring for the safety of customers, most outside tube stations are left unstaffed with just a phone number to call for help, how is that caring?”

London Underground policies on equality

There is certainly some confusion regarding policies and what if any of this is part of any training staff have to ensure everyone has the same message and treats people equally. The Accessible Network 2015 document states “We provide our customers with alternative travel arrangements, if needed, when lifts or escalators are out of service. This may mean a taxi provided at our cost.” So not if they are working but can’t be used?

Transport for London also states in Help from Staff that “On the Tube, TfL Rail and Overground, station staff will also accompany you to the train and help you on board and, if needed, can arrange for you to be met at your destination. Anyone can use this service, but it is particularly used by blind and visually impaired passengers and people using boarding ramps onto trains.”

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination. A company must make adaptions for people with disabilities where possible. Here it was possible? Even if the escalator could not have been stopped where was a member of staff to carry the dog to enable a disabled person to use the services?

The TFL underground policy with regards assistance dogs which are not trained to use escalators  and believe restricting disabled passengers to non busy travelling times is discriminatory and therefore illegal. The Transport for London’s People with sight or hearing loss policy states that station staff will help find an alternative route however the alternative route suggested would have been a further distance away from the required destination and they gave no further help.

Alison and redress from Transport for London

As a result of the service Alison and Claire incurred a black cab fare of £12.60 and despite paying money onto an Oyster card, did not make the journey from Oxford Circus to Kings Cross.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 Alison is entitled to receive services carried out with reasonable skill and care. 1) The customer services line clearly does not have enough people to deal with calls, 2) staff from two different stations said that they should be able to stop the escalator showing a lack of training across customer facing staff 3) no alternative was provided and service was refused. This was refused on grounds of disability which is a breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Claire wrote to TFL about the issues and after chasing twice finally got a response from London Transport over three weeks later. She received an apology and the cab fare.

Transport for London comment on policies and service

When I asked the Transport for London Press Office for some clarity regarding their policies regarding stopping escalators for untrained guide dogs, stations able and unable to do this and providing taxi fares, it took 8 days to find out saying that it had had to “…co-ordinate with a lot of different areas in the business which has taken some time”, indicating that there is not a clear understanding across the network. In a statement it said:

“We want blind and visually impaired people to be able to travel around London with confidence and we are putting more staff than ever before in the public areas of stations to provide assistance. Assistance dogs are very much welcome and for a number of years we’ve been working with Guide Dogs to provide a training package so that guide dogs can use escalators.

When a customer travels on the network with their assistance dog, they will usually be helped to access the platform via a staircase or lift. If the station only has an escalator, assistance dogs that have been trained can use that.

For their safety, dogs that haven’t been trained should, if at all possible, be carried. Where this option is not possible, a member of staff can stop the escalator to help a blind or visually impaired person and their dog walk up or down safely.

At some times of day the Tube can be very busy, so there may be occasions when, to avoid overcrowding, we are unable to stop an escalator. In that case our staff will offer blind or visually impaired customers a taxi.”

Questions asked of the London Transport Commissioner about service and complaint handling

I emailed the London Transport Commissioner asking for comment on the following:

1) Why it took over 3 weeks to receive a reply.

2) There was not a thorough investigation as clearly shown by the very brief email from Vernon. Every single paragraph is a standard one and does not refer to the individual case in any shape or form other than a sentence acknowledging that a taxi should have been paid for.

3) The policies referred to in the letter were not mentioned at all. Where is any comment regarding the breaches?

4) No reference is made to the unacceptable length of time Ms Williams was left on the phone before giving up, please provide an explanation for this time and what you will be doing to improve wait times

5) No reference is made at all to identifying members of staff despite being provided with dates and times or how you will ensure staff provide correct information in future. “I will make sure our staff are reminded of our policy and apply it”. How, what parts and how will they apply it and over what period of time?

6) Vernon states that LT is not in breach of the Equality Act but makes no reference to staff providing differing information and not providing an alternative and how this does not breach the Act. How is this not a breach?

7) Vernon makes no reference to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the breach by not providing services with reasonable skill and care. Please do so.

8) Why weren’t these points answered in the email Ms Williams finally received?

The response? Back came the Managing Director,  Customers, Communication and Technology.

“I am very sorry that you that you do not consider my response to have been timely and that I have failed to cover all of your points. 

All I can add is that we are committed to making public transport accessible to all Londoners, backed up by record investment in new step-free station schemes and better information and other support to give people with disabilities greater confidence to use our services. We are also human and sometimes make mistakes, as we did in this case.”

tube train and "Transport for London stuck in inequality jam"

 

As you can see from the extent of the above, London Transport does not appear to investigate complaints properly, does little to help disabled passengers and nothing to ensure that what help there is, is widely communicated to both staff and passengers.

 

 

 

Share your stories of transport and discrimination in the comments below. I have a feeling that there will be a few….