Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Concessions of a Blue Badge Holder

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.


Mary said...

Good morning Ms Goldfish!

For checking and legitimacy, I would have no problem with someone checking the serial number of my badge against a database with my name and photograph on it and saying "yep, that's you, sorry to have bothered you, have a nice day." But I'm against arguing with a civil servant about "how disabled" I may or may not be.

I think the thing about the congestion charge is that it's not in place to be a "reasonable" or "fair" charge - it's supposed to be a deterrent, an effective way to get people to opt for walking or public transport instead of using their cars. For those people who have no choice BUT to use their cars, that's a bit of a bugger to say the least. Particularly if they have to enter the zone for work or therapy several times a week.

While high-rate mobility DLA is a not inconsiderable £43 a week, it must be remembered that for many people this cash, for all practical purposes, doesn't exist because they have got a car through Motability, effectively signing all their "getting about the place" money away. They can't yoink a bit of it back to cover parking or road charges, those will have to be covered by other funds.

Anonymous said...

I'm now interested in what happens with this road pricing scheme, whether any concessions will be made there.

The other thing I've wondered about is identity theft. If I remember correctly (been a while since I've had to use my badge, for various reasons) - you're supposed to display it with your photo and name visible. Not too much problem for John Smith, but when you're the only Matyhcideon* in the phone book, it's not very comforting to effectively advertise your name, address and potential (at least some people might think) vunerability.

*purely fictional, any resemblance to persons living....

The Goldfish said...

I guess the whole problem with DLA is that it is one size fits all. The expenses of mobility aren't nearly so regular in any case. Need an MOT? That's a weeks' worth if nothing else needs doing. Need new batteries for the wheelchair? Well that's several weeks' worth all at once.

However, we are still making choices - including whether to use the motability scheme. As for journeys for therapeutic purposes, well that's something which may apply to many people who are not elligible for the Blue Badge.

Vic makes a good point about the proposed pay-as-you-drive road charging though; to be honest, my proposal might fall down at that gate, unless DLA went up a lot to compensate for the additional cost of needing the car.

And Vic, no, the fact you don't have to display your photo is part of the whole thing which makes fraud so easy. In fact, it is only in recent months that traffic wardens have been allowed to ask to see it - previously that privelege was reserved for police officers.

And that is one suggestion - to put the photo on the front. But as you say, it gives too much information to potential felons of all variety, to associate the person with the car with the disability status.

The other suggestion often raised is to associate the Blue Badge with one vehicle. But of course for those of us unable to drive, who might rely on several different vehicles...

fluttertongue said...

Just to play devil's advocate, and because I am a fan of road pricing in general and immobile, if this is a big problem it should have investment that reflects that both in education and policing rather than putting the onus on the badge holder. Policies that force a discrepancy in levels of individual liberty between regular joe and disadvantaged minorities should be avoided at all costs.

Mary said...

"that's something which may apply to many people who are not elligible for the Blue Badge."

Yes. Some people with blue badges and a lot of people without blue badges need - actually NEED - to use a car within the congestion zone on a regular and long-term basis.

Hence, I agree with you that the blue badge should not mean automatic let-off from the charges - BUT I feel that those people should be able to get a significant reduction, at least.

As for the motability scheme, IF I was in a fit state to drive I would only go for it if I needed a specially adapted car. In other circumstances I would get a straightforward bank loan, buy a decent (but not brand spanking new) car, and end up owning it outright after a few years for a monthly payment of considerably less than ALL the DLA. That way if you improve a little/are very unlucky with the forms after a few years and they take your DLA away, you don't lose the car and suffer the effects.

Penelope said...

In the US, I think it's much less common (and certainly less advertised) to have fees waived for something if you have our equivalent of a blue badge. I know there are some city streets where the difference is that instead of paying 50 cents or so to park for 2 hours maximum, you get for as long as you want for free, but it's not nationalized (and sometimes not even by state) so while you might be able to do it one place, you can't most places and unless you feel like looking up the law for every single city you visit, there's no point.

That said, I have no idea what the black market for the things is over here. I do know that a lot of things are still heavily abused. There's a story about a cop who went around some major city at one point and checked and found over a hundred which were not the badges for the people who were using them.

Anonymous said...

Penelope is right, in the USA there are no fee waivers for parking/toll roads for people with handicapped-space tags.