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Struggling black cab drivers suffer ‘despair and anxiety’

Warnings of a 'mental health crisis' as drivers facing competition from fixed-price private hire taxis try to make ends meet

23 July, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Cabbie Chris Johnson: ‘TfL ignore us’

THE Mayor of London has ignored warnings of a “mental health crisis” among black cab drivers struggling to make ends meet because of Uber-style private hire vehicles, they say.

A “Driven to Despair” campaign was launched this week that takes aim at Sadiq Khan and Transport for London, which regulates the taxi trade.

Professional drivers, who have spent much time memorising London roads and landmarks, say their livelihoods are threatened by competition from fixed-price private hire cabs.

Some are suffering from depression and anxiety, according to a 30-minute promotional film published this week that says “there is no coincidence why there is a mental health crisis within the taxi industry”.

In the film, cabby Chris Johnson, one of the organisers of the campaign, said: “TfL’s policy and poor performance and failure to regulate the industry is the cause of these mental health problems.

Drivers talk of a ‘sense of loss’ and hard-to-get-out-of-bed feelings. PHOTO: 0X010C (TALK | CONTRIBS) WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

“TfL are not doing anything near as much as they could be, they appear to be brushing it under the carpet. They have continuously implemented the policy that has impacted on drivers’ health and wellbeing. When we have highlighted these problems to TfL, they ignore us. They leave us to get on with fending for ourselves.”

Mr Johnson said that the meter fare system afforded an industrial wage, but that this had been “undermined and undercut” by the private hire trade.

The film said that some taxi drivers fear raising mental health concerns with health professionals because they could be stripped of their licences. Recently-published figures show more than 500 drivers have failed to meet DVLA medical standards because of medical disorders, including poor mental health, since 2014.

Paul Harris, a cab driver for 23 years, said: “It’s not something I’m happy to talk about. It affects me. It makes me feel like I’m part of London, but not any more. Because my job has been taken by another entity – and that entity doesn’t play by the same rules as me.”

Cabbie Dale Forwood said: “TfL are not very sympathetic of the stress. Everyone is very worried about having go to the doctor about depression and anxiety.”

Other drivers in the film talk about the “sense of loss” and “hard to get out of bed” and depression.

Matt Johnson, an ambassador for mental health charity MIND, said: “It’s difficult for a man to talk about mental illness. It’s perceived to be a weakness, it is not. Cabbies have a wonderful skill and knowledge. It seems like they are not being backed up by the people they should be backed by the most. It’s 100 per cent, I believe, TfL’s responsibility to provide some sort of therapy because of working environment they are creating. There are so many options of therapy that people can provide. If people are struggling with rules being imposed on them, the least you can do is help them out.”

Last week Sadiq Khan was asked about taxi driver licences being revoked or suspended because of depression or anxiety.

He said: “TfL would expect licensees to seek help for any medical condition at the earliest stage possible, to ensure it is treated. In the vast majority of cases, if medical help is sought and the condition is treatable, it is unlikely that TfL will need to take licensing action. Licensing action will only be taken if there is a risk to the travelling public or indeed the licensee.”

He added: “Mental health illnesses, including depression and anxiety, are serious conditions that require treatment. No one should suffer in silence.”

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