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Proposals to End Funding for Dial-a-Ride

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 An Open Response from Community Glue

 

Oxfordshire County Council are currently consulting on proposals to save £6.1 million (about one fifth) of their supported transport services. They are planning to make most of the cuts to subsidised bus routes (either by withdrawing the subsidy altogether, or by reducing it). However, Dial-a-Ride is also in the cross-hairs.


For the last few years, it has been our great pleasure to meet regularly with a group of older women who successfully campaigned to improve Dial-a-Ride in 2013. At our Food for Thought meetings, we have heard many examples of why the scheme is valuable. We thought it might be helpful to relay some of them in the present context.


Firstly, we should say that we know it’s not the Council’s fault they are being forced to make cuts. However, we think the wording of the consultation document is misleading, and seems aimed at justifying cuts that will be pushed through anyway. For example the Council says that the majority of Dial-a-Ride users “… hold concessionary bus passes, and of those who are able to walk, just fewer than 75% are within 400m walking distance of a bus stop.” The clear implication is that people should be using a bus instead. But there are reasons why some people might not.


People with limited mobility who may not feel confident to use a bus will use Dial-A-Ride because it will stop where they live and the driver will help them with their shopping (some people didn’t want to tell us this in case the driver got into trouble!). Their friends will often go with them, helping them to do their shopping and carrying cups of tea back from the cafe counter. Sometimes the group might include people with memory problems who wouldn’t go out on their own, and aren't included in the Council's figures for people who "can't walk". Dial-a-Ride helps whole groups of people get out, have a bit of fun together and get their shopping.


Other parts of the consultation document imply that people who use Dial-a-Ride maybe somehow getting financial benefits to which they are not entitled. As well as the mention of concessionary bus passes quoted above, the document states that users of Council Day Centres have to pay for transport, so why not Dial-a-Ride users? Strangely the consultation document doesn’t mention the effect that these and other charges have had on Day Centre use.


The document also mysteriously states that the service “… uses specialist transport resources which arguably would be better allocated towards higher need Special Educational Need (SEN) users travelling to school.” If there is such an argument, the document stops short of making it. We thought the argument was about the least-worst way of making unavoidable cuts to the subsidised transport budget, not about which group of people will lose out. We think this kind of argument is divisive. Ultimately we’re better off standing together and fighting for decent public services for everyone than getting into arguments about who’s next for the chop. That’s why we’re not using the form the Council provides, and are responding to the consultation publicly.


Any society is rightly judged for the way it includes or excludes people on the basis of illness, old age or disability. The Council's consultation document states what it thinks are its legal obligations, but it doesn't cover treaty rights. To its credit, the UK was one of the first countries to sign up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, article 19 of which states that signatories “…shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community.”  Whether it’s young people who miss school or older adults who miss out on their weekly shopping trip, any curtailment of people’s “full inclusion and participation” is a breach of people’s treaty rights, is therefore illegal and (in our view) shameful. So let’s find an alternative.

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