One in four disabled rail passengers has suffered a hate crime or abuse, according to new research published today (24 April)) by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Action for Rail campaign.
The poll of 1,031 disabled people reveals that over a quarter (27 per cent) of disabled rail users have been targeted while at stations or on trains, with over two-fifths of wheelchair users (43 per cent) and travellers with visual impairments (41 per cent) reporting abuses.
The survey, by pollsters Survation, comes as train operating companies prepare to embark upon a major programme of cuts that Action for Rail fears could see the loss of 7,000 train guards and 7,000 station staff over the next six years.
These plans are deeply unpopular with disabled rail users, the poll reveals. Four-fifths (81 per cent) say reducing staff numbers will make train travel more difficult for them, with one in three (34 per cent) warning the cuts will deter them from making journeys, and in some cases make rail travel impossible.
Action for Rail says the findings show why the government should rethink its plans for the railways, which give train companies until 2019 to reduce staffing costs by £200million and close ticket offices at 650 stations.
If the cuts go ahead, Action for Rail is concerned that over seven in 10 (73 per cent) of the UK's stations could become unstaffed by the end of the decade, and that all trains would lose their guards.
Action for Rail says the cuts make a mockery of the government's commitment to making the railways more accessible to disabled and elderly people and would put the safety of all commuters at risk.
The poll shows that disabled rail users rank safety and security as the most important service that railway staff provide.
Disabled campaigners will today meet MPs in parliament at 1.30pm to raise their concerns about the cuts and will hold protests against the proposals at 4.30pm outside London's Kings Cross Station.
TUC General Secretary and chair of the Action for Rail campaign Frances O'Grady said: "These findings are disturbing and show why the government must rethink its plans for the railways. Giving train companies the green light to slash staffing on trains and stations will increase the risk of passengers being verbally and physically abused and will lead to a worse service for everyone.
"No-one deserves to travel in fear or to be left without vital assistance, and these plans make a mockery of the government's commitment to make the railways more accessible to disabled and elderly passengers. Ministers cannot achieve this target if after the cuts we end up with ghost trains and stations."
Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) said: 'These alarming figures back up what we already know - abuse and hate crime is a growing threat faced by many disabled people. We need extra not fewer staff if we want to tackle this problem and this is yet another regressive step being proposed by this government."
Director of Transport for All, Faryal Velmi said: 'Trained and visible rail staff are essential for us to be able to travel confidently. We urge the government to rethink plans to reduce staff numbers, and ensure that disabled and older passengers can use trains with the same freedom and independence as everyone else."