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Paul Sweeney: Driver Welfare SOS

A friend contacted me personally due to my involvement with London Taxi Facebook Group. We sat and drank tea at Heathrow Feeder Park Cafe. What he told me left me cold and angry. His friend works now as a Paramedic driver after leaving our trade. In only a matter of weeks the driver had attended twelve call outs just for London cab drivers. These drivers had attempted to take their own lives or were close to doing so. The paramedics and the driver involved had spoken to other colleagues within NHS call out response teams. Twelve in just one county. Imagine how far and deep this problem was now at. 

That conversation left me feeling totally at odds and my thoughts were "why as a trade do we have nothing in place to back us up?"

Days went past and I spoke to numerous faces and people who were alarmed as my first involvement. What struck me and left me absolutely shocked, involves the few trade groups that refused to even acknowledge the problem. Not only that, they refused to even talk to me and put something in place. 

However, Grant Davis from LCDC was exceptional and worked tirelessly to do something. Grant and his team worked with me to set up some tools to work with. Myself and a few trade faces set up a group on social media to put drivers and families etc, inside a closed environment to firstly try and reassure those in need. We enlisted some trained Counselling people within our London Taxi Family, who in turn would message individuals who were desperately looking for help. 

We were basically a ear to listen and direct to the professionals who made themselves available. 

Drivers and family members started opening up and some of the stories actually made us feel extremely lost and sad. Drivers were losing homes and families breaking up. The main crux of the problem stemming from our regulator TFL and Tory Government were intent on destroying a 360 year old trade. This was the feeling and feedback from some within our trade. 

The problem then was that drivers needed help from medical professionals, however anyone on medication or confirmed with mental health illness in the eyes of TFL, are then not permitted to drive a taxi in London. So you had drivers needing medical help, but caught between scenarios that would make decisions difficult. We found that most were responsible and would in fact speak to counselling experts privately. 

The Facebook group was growing at such an alarming rate, hard-faced drivers were contacting us, some desperately looking for help and support. 

Again Grant Davis and the LCDC worked tirelessly with myself and others to try and ask TFL for some support. That never materialised at all. Other organisations could have joined us, but refused to even take my calls. Then the GMB union stepped forward and provided contacts and list of services they as a large union could offer. 

Then come the breakthrough as Grant met with Michael Mansfield QC who understood what our sick drivers were going through. His Daughter had taken her own life and Michael needed to set something up. Along with his partner Yvette they founded SOS. 

This network was growing and Grant managed to involve SOS to help our people. 

Lots of tools were being put into place and we felt that the drivers and families now had something. Obviously we needed more, we needed other trade groups to help. Thankfully a range of people from the ordinary driver, trade supporters and of course Grant and his team understood and tried desperately to work with us. 

Unfortunately due to personal problems, I had to stop my work with Michael and SOS, but the LCDC have continued to offer support. Something has to change and fast, I ask the big organisations and others to step forward to work with the LCDC to help fellow drivers. 

My original aim was to put in place a system where drivers could be directed to help. Unfortunately the scale of the problem was just to big. Please if you are reading this and struggling, talk it over with someone. 

One life lost is one too many. 

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