Guide Dogs’ manifesto for the 2023 local elections in England

Guide Dogs’ ambition is a future where every person with sight loss can live the life they choose.

From designing accessible streets to taking a stand against illegal access refusals, local authorities and councillors have a key role to play in achieving this goal.

Achieving our vision where people with sight loss can live their life to the full will not just benefit those with a vision impairment, but wider communities too.

Using our local election manifesto, all candidates and councillors can help make a positive difference for people living with sight loss in their area.

Over 2 million people are estimated to be living with sight loss in the UK 

Only 1 in 4 people with sight loss are in work

38% of people with sight loss are not confident getting out and about outside their home

1. Make the built environment inclusive

Being able to get out and about independently is something most people take for granted. However, a quarter of people with sight loss do not feel able to go out independently, due to the obstacles and challenges they face on our streets and in public spaces. With wide-ranging powers, local authorities have a critical role to play in making sure our public spaces are accessible for everyone, including disabled and older people.

I think cars on pavements and street clutter really affect me. By the time I’ve walked to work, I feel like I’ve done a full day’s work already after avoiding all the obstacles. My routes go past some busy main roads and I end up stranded on the pavement waiting to go around an obstacle safely.
Guide dog owner, England

We are calling on candidates to make sure their local authority:

  • Conducts an audit of their local area to establish how accessible street environments are for people with sight loss
  • Consults with a wide range of disability organisations and disabled people, including people with sight loss, when making changes to the built environment
  • Follows guidance from disability organisations on how to ensure changes to public spaces, transport hubs and buildings are accessible. For example, Guide Dogs’ guidance ‘Making the built environment inclusive

We’re campaigning to ensure that our streets and public spaces are safe for people with sight loss

2. Access Refusals

The Equality Act makes it illegal for the vast majority of businesses and other service providers to refuse access to a guide dog owner. For taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers, such access refusals are a criminal offence, unless the driver has a valid medical exemption certificate.

Nevertheless, refusals remain a regular part of guide dog ownership.

Research by Guide Dogs found that 81% of guide dog owners have experienced an access refusal, and of those 73% said that it occurred in past 12 months.

Each refusal is crushing, confidence shattering, rejecting, and traumatic. I always feel that I don't want to go out after - but work dictates I must.
Guide dog owner, Stevenage

Access refusals have a significant impact on assistance dog owners. Not only can it lead to situations where they are unable to get home or to work, but it can have a crushing impact on someone’s confidence to get out and about independently.

Many local authorities are responsible for regulating taxis and PHVs in their area, including setting policies on issuing licences and when enforcement action is taken. The stance taken against such discrimination by local authorities varies greatly, which can have a direct impact on the likelihood of a guide dog owner experiencing an illegal access refusal.

We are calling on candidates to make sure their local authority:

  • Commits to all taxi and private hire vehicle drivers undertaking disability equality training as a requirement for being issued a licence.
  • Ensure disability and equality training is delivered by disabled people, where possible.
  • Adopts a zero-tolerance approach to any reports of taxi and PHV drivers refusing access to assistance dog owners.
  • Work with local businesses, and other service providers, to raise awareness of the rights assistance dog owners.

Find out more about our Open Doors Campaign

3. Children and Young People

Ensuring children and young people with a vision impairment receive the support they need as early as possible and for as long as needed, is crucial for their long-term development.

Local authorities have statutory responsibilities to deliver many of these life changing services. However, the level of support a child or young person receives has become a postcode lottery.

Local authority budgets, especially those for children’s services, are stretched. In the past five years, over a third of local authorities have cut their budget for sensory support for children and young people with a vision impairment.

The rate of young people with a vision impairment (aged 16-25) in education or employment is 18% lower than the general population of that age group. Investment will be needed to address this, and it is crucial that local authorities prioritise these services.

If we hadn’t had that early support, then really I don’t feel like my child wouldn’t be at the point she is now. The early support is going to help her grow up to be an independent adult who is blind, and ultimately I think that is a goal for every parent.
Parent of child with sight loss

We are calling on candidates to make sure their local authority:

  • Prioritises the provision of life changing services for children and young people with sight loss, such as habilitation and QTVI (Qualified Teacher of Children and Young People with Vision Impairment) support

Campaigning with children and young people

4. E-scooters

71% of those who drive privately owned e-scooters do so despite knowing it is illegal. These riders state they do so because the police have other things to worry about (51%) and they don’t think they will be punished (45%). 

Nearly 75% of people with sight loss have already had a negative experience involving e-scooters.

82% of people with sight loss are concerned about people riding e-scooters on pavements

E-scooters operate quietly, which makes them difficult for people with sight loss to identify and avoid. Even without a collision, a near miss can rob people with sight loss of the confidence to go out independently.

Using an e-scooter on public land is currently illegal unless the e-scooter is hired as part of one of the 27 e-scooter rental trials. Nonetheless, e-scooter sales have boomed, and the illegal use of private e-scooters has risen dramatically with an estimated one million e-scooters on our streets.

Whilst e-scooters may help towards decarbonising transport, the safety of pedestrians must be a priority. Guide Dogs is extremely concerned about the unsafe way many e-scooters are being used, with many being ridden at excessive speeds and on pavements. E-scooters being ridden dangerously pose a risk to pedestrians, including older people, children and people living with sight loss.

We are calling on candidates to:

  • Ask their local police force to prioritise enforcement action against the illegal use of private e-scooters on public roads.
  • Run a local information campaign to remind local residents that private e-scooters cannot be ridden on public roads.
  • If a trial is going on in your area, ensure your local authority or local transport authority is engaging with disability organisations and monitoring the impact on pedestrians with disabilities.
  • Ensure their local authority provides evidence to the Department for Transport on their experiences of e-scooter usage to help inform future legislation.
They make me feel fearful. My concern is that I am going to lose some independence because of them, because I will have to restrict what I do and where I go, and be extra careful, because there are scooters around and I don’t know where, or when they’ll appear.
Anna, Guide dog owner

Discover more about our campaigning with E-Scooters

Get in touch

If you are elected, remember to join Guide Dogs’ Councillors Network by emailing to keep up to date with what you can do to help people with sight loss in your community.

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