Mary has responded to a BBC News Article entitled Blue Badges: More of a hindrance? about the fact that an estimated half of all Blue Badges (disabled parking badges) in London are being used illegitimately and that a stolen Blue Badge can fetch up to £1600 on the black market.
I have a fairly simple if radical solution for this. Blue Badge fraud is pretty easy. Having bought a stolen Badge or else borrowed one from a disabled friend or family member, one can use it usually without question. It is quite rightly considered rude to confront someone over the legitimacy of their badge, as a certain councillor found out when he demanded to see the injured leg of a Badge holder he considered suspect. There is no way of working out the legitimacy of the badge just by looking at the badge, the holder or the vehicle - and I've never heard a good suggestion for doing so which wouldn't compromise either the freedom or the privacy of the holder.
So, the only way I can see of reducing Blue Badge theft and fraud is to make having a Blue Badge less profitable. People are not prepared to pay nearly so much nor bend the law so far for mere convenience as they are prepared to pay and bend the law for something they see as a financial investment.
The Blue Badge exists to enable people with mobility impairments to access places they would not be able to access without those car-parking spaces and privileges (such as being able to park on double-yellow lines). It is not a terribly fair system, disqualifying many disabled people who would really benefit from the scheme because they can stagger just a few yards too far or because their condition fluctuates. It also ignores people with any sort of temporary mobility problem – temporary being defined as under three years. However, access is what it is all about.
Which is why the Blue Badge should not be about making life cheaper for people with mobility impairments. Beyond the obvious advantages of being able to park where others are not allowed to park (if within fairly tight restrictions), there is no reason for this to be the case. Disabled people have choices about the journeys they make and their personal budget just like everyone else. If a congestion charge, other road toll or the cost of parking is fair, then it ought to be the same for everyone. It is not as if people with mobility impairments are somehow getting less out of travelling or carparking, nor is it the case that Blue Badge holders are necessarily strapped for cash. Statistically, of course, we are more likely to have low incomes, but concessions on the grounds of statistical probability would be considered patronising towards almost any other social group.
People with mobility impairments are, of course, far more likely to be dependant on their cars and there are far fewer options (if any) when it comes to public transport. The latter is something which does need to change. However, the main way in which a person qualifies for the badge in the UK is by claiming the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, which aims to cover the costs of the claimants’ mobility needs regardless of the claimant’s employment status or income. We could have a lengthy debate about whether that (currently £43.35 a week) is a pittance or a fortune – how far it stretches depends entirely on the individual’s needs and circumstance, but that is the purpose of that benefit.
As it is, the Blue Badge can make life significantly cheaper for the holders because we do get cheaper parking and concessions on road tolls - including a 100% concession on the Central London Congestion Charge. The BBC article suggested that it might save £5000 a year to someone driving into and parking in Central London every day. Although this isn’t a realistic measure of the savings made by the vast majority of badge holders, it shouldn’t be saving us any money at all.
What would be to our advantage is a situation where the Blue Badge scheme was perceived as being fair and therefore properly respected, so that people did not feel justified in pinching our spaces, abusing the Badge scheme or indeed, smashing the windscreens on our essential vehicles in order to steal a piece of very profitable piece of cardboard.
In other news, if anyone happens in Winchester tomorrow evening, they may wish to go hear my sister singing the high notes of Allegri's Miserare in Winchester Cathedral. I'm sure it will sound very lovely indeed.