Charities and advocates for disabled people in the city have backed Oxford City Council’s call for government funding for stewarding to allow the safe reopening of the city centre for people with disabilities.

Councillor Marie Tidball wrote to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on June 22 asking for the support.

This call has now been backed by charities and support groups Elmore Community Services, My Life My Choice, Oxfordshire Association for the Blind and Connection Support.

The government department has allocated £134,950 from the Reopening High Streets Safely (RHSS) Fund for the council to introduce safety measures helping people get back to work and shops.

The council is using this funding to introduce a range of measures that include advisory one-way pavements in the city centre and on Cowley Road, stencils and signage, and advice and support for businesses.

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On the advice of an inclusive public realm focus group comprised of people with disabilities and representing disability charities, the council also introduced 12 stewards in the city centre and Cowley Road.

The stewards help manage pedestrian flows and provide advice and support to people on social distancing and use of the one-way pavement guidance in place.

This support includes personalised accessibility advice for people with disabilities, which the council and focus group members believe is necessary to allow Oxford to reopen in a safe and accessible way. MHCLG guidance says that these accessible street champions are not eligible for RHSS funding.

Ms Tidball, cabinet member for supporting local communities, said: “As a disabled woman myself, I know that it is essential for the protection of the health of disabled people and their inclusion in our society that measures taken to exit lockdown consider their elevated risk of contracting coronavirus."

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Ben McCay, chair of trustees at My Life My Choice, added: “People with learning disabilities are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the general population yet we have been an afterthought in terms of protection from the pandemic. Many are terrified of catching the virus and are nervous of going out and about.

"Oxford City Council’s request for stewards to help maintain social distancing around the city centre is a sensible, proportionate, safe and reasonable one.

"The fact that the needs of people with a learning disability, and those with other disabilities, are being ignored yet again is of no great surprise. "Perhaps one day we will be seen by those in power as equal partners in our communities rather than a nuisance.”