The wheelchair v buggy case shows a depressing ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude across society

In a case that has taken more than 5 years to come to fruition, the supreme court in the UK today found that a bus company must do more to allow someone in a wheelchair to have space when a pushchair or someone is in their designated area and refuses to move.

Five long years this chap has had to go against the bus company, and by anyone’s reasoning that is a long time for something, that on the surface, sounds bleeding obvious.

The story goes like this. In February of 2012 a wheelchair bound bloke called Doug Paulley tried to board a First Group bus from Wetherby to Leeds in Yorkshire, only to find that the space for chairs and buggies was occupied by a woman with a sleeping toddler in a pushchair. The bus driver then asked her to fold down the chair and move. She said no and claimed that her pushchair would not fold.  Mr Paulley even offered to fold his wheelchair when the woman refused to fold hers but was told there was no safe space to store his chair and the bus drove off without him thereby making him late for his onbound connection purely because he couldn’t walk.

The company had a ‘request not require’ policy-i.e. the driver could ask the person obstructing the disabled area to move but if they said no, that was that. So Mr Paulley took them to court on discrimination grounds and won. First Group appealed and won back. Mr Paulley took the case to the highest court in the land and has finally been vindicated.

Hurrah for common sense? Well sort of. Yet it begs all sorts of questions of why we look to the nanny state and the courts to solve problems like this rather than deal with them ourselves. For this little incident and case raises a much larger issue about society that appears to have been overlooked by everyone.

  • What does it say about how selfish that woman was with her pushchair that she denied a disabled man a space on a bus so that her kid could sleep?
  • What does it also say about the passengers, on what must have been a pretty busy bus, that they failed to intervene, tell the woman to not be such a selfish prick or offer their seat so that Mr Paulley could get on?
  • Hows about the driver? Why is no-one outraged by Mr Jobsworth that he would rather go with company policy that was clearly awful, even were it not illegal, rather that treat a wheelchair bound man with some degree of dignity and respect?
  • Then there is ‘First’ Group. How should we feel about a company that appeals a case like this? That they were prepared to put a man under intense mental pressure of legal action for five long years in order to defend a distasteful policy where rude, lying, selfish, nasty people can trump disabled people?
  • What does it tell us about Appeal judges and their opinion of society when they rule that changing the original policy to require people to get out of a disabled space ‘would cause delays and confrontation’?
  • Why are disabled rights campaigners praising the ruling rather than chastising and castigating the society that permits people who are better off from behaving in such a disgusting way or complaining that these people exist in the first place in the 21st century?
  • What does it say about the commentariat that all this appalling behaviour by individual British citizens gets ignored and that they only focus on some narrow tokenistic judgement about bus policies?
  • And finally, what does it say about political leadership that no-one has come out to berate Britain for this whole sorry episode? The way Mr Paulley was treated, the way everyone on that bus behaved, the desperation of the bus company to protect profit, the slowness of a judicial system that takes five years to conclude such a case or the charities who seem to have missed the point?

Mr Paulley has won some sort of victory. But decent society has again lost. It demonstrates yet another reason for individuals at all levels to look to the state for intervention rather than being morally upstanding people who treat each other with courtesy and respect.

Scumbags like the woman who refused Mr Paulley a seat won. She kept her seat, kept her kid quiet, wasn’t inconvenienced and wasn’t prosecuted or taken to task for the way she behaved.

There are lots of these people out there. They break planning permission, park on double yellow lines outside schools, drop their litter, don’t move down the train when asked. They will do anything that makes sure that ‘I am alright Jack’ and will only do anything to change their behaviour when the full force of the law falls upon them. And that is primarily because we are too fearful, too selfish or too up our own arses to challenge this type of lowlife behaviour in the first place.

It shouldn’t be like that. People should be the arbiters, not the police or the council or the courts. Even before that people should be taught common courtesy and should be humiliated when they fail to do that. For the longer we rely on government and the state to do our thinking for us then the more often this sort of inexcusable behaviour will continue.

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