Unite Community activists in Leeds have been praised by the parents of disabled children after their campaigning helped suspend plans to scrap school transport for the youngsters.
Leeds City Council last year announced plans to cut transport services for children with special educational needs and physical disabilities entering post-16 education.
In an effort to save £830,000, the council proposed replacing escorted mini-bus transport with personal travel allowances – a move that would leave children who have to travel long distances to school stranded and force some parents to give up work.
In response, a group of parents formed the Disability Empowerment Action Links (DEAL) campaign in February to fight the cuts.
After hearing about the children’s plight, activists from Unite Community teamed up with DEAL to stage demonstrations, launch a petition and lobby councillors and MPs.
Pause to cuts
Following a campaign that won the backing of two Leeds MPs, who took part in the Leeds trade union council’s May Day rally and attracted widespread media attention, the council last week announced they were “pausing” the cuts and would be reconsidering the issue.
This means disabled children entering, and already in, post-16 education this September will still be able to access transport services for the remainder of their time at school.
In a statement DEAL described the council’s decision as a “significant development”, saying that a “fair travel policy” for children entering post-16 education in the future needs to be developed with their input.
The parents group also sent a letter of thanks to the Unite Community activists who assisted with the campaign.
The letter read, “We honestly can’t thank you guys enough. You helped us tackle the issues that face the most vulnerable in our society and for that we are truly grateful. Our campaign wouldn’t be as successful if it we didn’t have you guys standing by us in all of this.”
Unite Community Leeds and Wakefield branch secretary Gerry Lavery said the campaign came about after one of his neighbours got in touch.
Lavery said, “One of the parents lives near me and knew I was involved with Unite Community. Services for disabled children had been cut before in Leeds, but this was too much.
“Some of the parents attended a branch meeting and a motion was passed in support of the campaign. We had leaflets, placards and a banner made for the campaign and we helped with lobbying and raising public awareness. A few of the parents have since joined up as members.”
Unite regional coordinator John Coan said the campaign was “another excellent example of the positive changes Unite Community activists make to people’s lives everyday”.
“Standing together to fight against injustice and inequality is at the heart of what trade unionism is all about,” Coan said.
“The hard work and dedication of Leeds’ Unite Community members in assisting some of the most vulnerable young people in their community speaks for itself.
“Although the fight goes on to ensure transport services for disabled children in the area remain permanently, the DEAL campaigners can be sure that Unite Community members will be with them every step of the way.”