Transport, housing and disability hate crime debated at Inclusion London mayoral hustings

Transport, housing and disability hate crime debated at Inclusion London mayoral hustings

London’s 1.2 million disabled people remain among the most marginalised and excluded groups in the capital, setting a significant challenge to the Mayor to step up efforts to promote disability equality, the latest mayoral election hustings heard this week.

The fully-booked event at the Abbey Centre in Great Smith Street, organised by Inclusion London which supports deaf and disabled people’s organisations in London, nevertheless saw only Green Party contender Zoë Garbett of the four main party candidates turn up, prompting the hosts to call for “no more no shows” in future.

“We are deeply disappointed,” said Inclusion London’s Laura Vicinanza after the event. “It is important to be able to engage directly with the candidates we’re voting for and ask for clear commitments in a way that is accessible to us.”

The session covered questions ranging from accessible transport and housing to policing, with Labour represented by Cities of London and Westminster parliamentary candidate Rachel Blake, and London Assembly members Andrew Boff and Hina Bokhari speaking for the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat candidates respectively.

The absence of frontrunners Sadiq Khan and Susan Hall didn’t prevent some antagonism. The capital’s choice, said Blake, was between Khan, “focused on delivering for all Londoners, uniting our communities”, or a “hard right, Tory candidate who doesn’t share London’s values”.

Khan, on the other hand, according to Boff, had “constantly ignored” disabled people, failing to consult and often aiming schemes at the “average Londoner” rather than addressing specific needs. “Talking a big game but not delivering is Sadiq Khan’s special skill,” he said.

For Garbett and Bokhari, a new City Hall disability “champion” or commissioner, was needed. Hall would extend consultation “to ensure that every time a change is put in there is a disabled person giving voice to their particular interest,” said Boff. Khan, said Blake, had established a forum of deaf and disabled people organisations, and consistently “sought to include deaf and disabled people in decisions”.

Blake’s response on Khan’s record was robust: free school meals, “record numbers” of affordable homes, fares frozen, more step-free stations, protecting travel concessions from “Tory government cuts”, and pledges including 40,000 new council homes by 2030 and £3 million a year for new toilets on the Transport for London network.

On transport in particular concerns were raised about the slow pace of station accessibility improvements, the lack of help points on Tube station platforms, lift breakdowns, restrictions on black cab routes and the dangers posed by “floating” bus stops, where passengers have to cross a cycle lane to board.

Khan had already ordered a review of floating bus stops with a view to improving safety and would implement its findings, said Blake. Hall would scrap them, said Boff, while Garbett and Bokhari were content to await the review.

Garbett had wider proposals too, from reducing fares longer-term and restoring travel concessions in the morning rush hour – a pledge matched by the Tory and Lib Dem contenders – to appointing a “loo tsar”, providing longer crossing times at pedestrian crossings and instigating a “massive programme” of accessibility upgrades across the network.

On housing, more work was needed to meet Khan’s London Plan target for 10 per cent of new homes to be fully wheelchair accessible, the meeting heard, with Boff and Bokhari noting that delivery has been about half what it should be.

A London-wide register of wheelchair accessible homes should be introduced, “to make sure we are actually keeping track of this,” said Garbett. Khan was already considering updates to the London Plan requirements, said Blake, “looking in detail at the needs of disabled Londoners”. Speakers agreed that more housing overall was needed.

There was a probing question on policing from Jack Gilbert of Tower Hamlets-based disabled people’s organisation Real, which brought agreement that the Metropolitan Police needs a specific plan to tackle disability hate crime.

Last year, Gilbert said, 600 disability hate crimes were recorded in London, but just nine were solved. Other statistics showed that “disabled people are two and a half times more likely to be a victim of abuse, twice as likely to be a victim of violent crime and more likely to be a victim of anti-social behaviour”, he said.

Bokhari said that disability hate crime has been increasing and also likely to be under-reported. “We need more public awareness on abuse of disabled Londoners and the kind of abuse that they face,”

Garbett said the Met needed to acknowledge its own institutional failings: “I know the Met commissioner hasn’t done that and I know that communities have found that really difficult.”

Both Khan and Met commissioner Mark Rowley were clear, said Blake, that “disabled Londoners have been let down by the police, and a culture change is now required to address this”. The previous commissioner had not acted to address institutional issues, she added. “Thanks to Sadiq, the Met has a new, reforming commissioner and a new plan.”

Hall would spend some of her proposed extra £200 million for policing on addressing the “culture problem in the Metropolitan Police”, added Boff. The police should also be investigating as a matter of course whether disability hate was a motive in any crime against a disabled person, he said.

Inclusion London will now be sharing its manifesto and putting the hustings questions to the candidates themselves. “The Mayor has a vital role in making disabled Londoners’ lives better,” said the group’s chief executive Tracey Lazard. “We call on all mayoral candidates to meet with us, discuss our manifesto asks and commit to full and meaningful engagement with us.”

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