Campaigners are calling for “critical” changes to rules that make it harder for disabled people to use their blue parking badges in four central London local authorities, particularly when they are attending urgent hospital appointments.
They say the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the need for a “standardised and compassionate” policy on the use of pay-and-display parking bays by disabled people with blue badges.
They are particularly concerned about four central London local authorities – Westminster, City of London, Kensington and Chelsea, and part of Camden – that have historically been exempt from the national blue badge scheme because of concerns about congestion and security.
The campaign is spear-headed by Kush Kanodia, a disabled social entrepreneur and adviser on disability issues, with growing support from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).
It follows his successful #NoWheelchairTax campaign, which helped persuade the government to scrap all parking charges for blue badge holders in NHS carparks in England.
The next step in his campaigning focuses on the need to make it easier for disabled people to park near some of central London’s major hospitals, particularly during the pandemic.
Although the campaign is focusing currently on the four central London councils, he hopes eventually to expand it to push for free parking for blue badge holders across London, and then across the UK, to try to ensure that all local authorities have the same rules for how blue badge holders can use standard pay and display parking bays.
For now, he wants the four boroughs to make it possible for holders of blue badges to park for up to four hours at little or no charge, to match the NHS four-hour waiting-time target for accident and emergency departments.
This is so they would have long enough to attend urgent healthcare appointments – for example, at specialist cancer and cardiology hospitals – and are not tempted to use unsafe public transport during the COVID-19 crisis.
Kanodia said: “Currently the situation is you can get one hour.
“That’s ridiculous and makes it so disabled people can’t access free NHS healthcare. That’s unacceptable in a pandemic.
“There’s a moral and legal duty, not just on the NHS but also councils to make reasonable adjustments.
“It could make a difference between life and death for disabled people.
“Let’s also simplify our system. It doesn’t need to be so complicated.”
He has already had one success, with Kensington and Chelsea council agreeing to allow blue badge holders to obtain up to four hours of free parking in zones near the borough’s major hospitals as long as they make a small payment.
But Westminster council has so far told Kanodia it has no plans to follow that lead, telling him in an email: “Whilst the Equality Act 2010 places a duty on the council to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ where disabled access issues to goods or services are identified, it is felt that the current situation does not place badge holders at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared to non-badge holders.”
Westminster said that Camden and City of London councils were also not planning any changes to their policies “for similar reasons”.
Kanodia says that large parts of the public transport network are still inaccessible to disabled people – and are also a health risk during the pandemic* – while disability is one of the key predictors of poverty in the UK.
He also points to changes that have increased competition for spaces, including the government’s decision last year to expand the blue badge scheme to more people with invisible impairments, and accessible parking bays that have been cordoned off during the pandemic.
The government is also opening up free NHS parking in England to parents of sick children staying in hospital overnight, frequent outpatients who have to attend regular appointments to manage long-term conditions, and staff working night shifts, in addition to the blue badge holders he campaigned for.
And, during the pandemic, it has agreed to fund free parking for NHS staff in hospital and council-run car parks and pay-and-display bays in England.
Kanodia’s campaign is backed by DPOs and grassroots groups including Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London, Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea (ADKC), and W9 Westminster People’s Empowerment Group (W9 Westminster PEG).
Jon Abrams, Inclusion London’s campaigns and justice officer, said: “This is a critical initiative to create a standardised and accessible disabled parking policy across London.
“Kush Kanodia has persuaded Kensington and Chelsea council to change its policy so blue badge holders can park for up to four hours in streets near hospitals.
“The scheme should now be implemented across London, especially because public transport remains inaccessible for many disabled people, and the rules for blue badge holders are too complicated.
“There is a particular urgency to make the changes because of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on disabled people and the increased risks of using trains, buses and taxis to access NHS services.”
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We support calls for a standardised and compassionate approach to blue badge parking by hospitals, private car parks, and across our towns and cities.
“Disabled people who rely on cars as their sole means of getting from A to B shouldn’t be penalised by high costs or lack of disabled parking bays.
“During the pandemic, we have been horrified that disabled parking bays have been cordoned off, denying disabled people’s access to essential services.”
Mariya Stoeva, project coordinator for ADKC’s access group, said: “We know there is an increased risk for disabled people in using public transport during these times.”
She praised the “foresight” of Kensington and Chelsea council in relaxing its blue badge rules, which was supported by ADKC, and urged other local authorities to follow suit and make similar reasonable adjustments.
A spokesperson for W9 Westminster PEG said: “We are very disappointed to learn that Westminster council has recently rejected making any reasonable adjustment which means they are failing in their duty under the Equality Act 2010.
“Why can’t Westminster council show any compassion to disabled people when they know we have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19?”
*Office for National Statistics figures show that disabled people have made up about three-fifths of COVID-related deaths in England and Wales
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