The UK government has been strongly criticised for cutting the active travel budget by over 50% in the latest spending review. According to The Guardian, this amounts to a real term cut of £380m. The funding is intended to upgrade and maintain walking and cycling routes and encourage fewer car journeys. 

Disability rights campaigners have criticised the move, pointing out that disabled people disproportionately rely on well-maintained off-road routes to travel by wheelchair or mobility scooter. They claim that the cuts will result in fewer journeys by disabled people, impacting on their health and the contribution that they make to society. 

Mikey Erhardt, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Disability Rights UK said: “Seeing the government turn its back on active travel in the UK is incredibly disappointing. These cuts represent a deprioritisation of the right of Disabled people to live independent, fulfilling lives.”

He added: “Disabled people are less likely to drive than non-disabled people, and for many, the current state of affairs leaves us trapped or afraid of the dangers of travelling in the ways that suit us. We hope the government decides against its recent course of action.”

Besides the immediate disadvantage to users of mobility vehicles, campaigners point out that the cuts will have a detrimental effect on the long term health of the wider population. Making it easier for people to walk or cycle rather than drive improves rates of physical activity and also reduces pollution by taking cars off the road.

The charity Sustrans, who campaign for safer walking, wheeling, and cycling routes, have also heavily criticised the cuts. A statement commented: “It is heartbreaking to see vital active travel budgets wiped away in England, at the exact time when they are most essential to UK economic, social and environmental prospects.”

It continued: “It simply doesn’t make sense to withdraw investment in active travel at this time, particularly as it contributed £36.5 billion to the UK economy in 2021.” 

“Representing a two-thirds cut to promised capital investment in safe infrastructure for walking, wheeling and cycling, these cuts are a backward move for active travel and will counteract the tremendous progress we’ve seen in recent years.”

“These cuts will leave England lagging far behind other UK nations and London, at a time when we need to be raising the bar everywhere. Promised Government targets of 50% of all journeys in English towns and cities being walked or cycled by 2030, and for the UK to be Net Zero by 2050, are made impossible by these cuts.”

People with restricted mobility already face many obstacles when it comes to getting around safely. Common problems include pavements blocked by street furniture or parked cars, poorly maintained paths, obstructive gateways and a lack of step-free access. 

Furthermore, cuts to public transport budgets in recent years mean that there are fewer staff available to assist disabled people when boarding or disembarking from trains at railway stations, or to assist them with the use of platform lifts.

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