Disabled campaigners have won significant concessions from London’s mayor after they warned that plans to widen the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) in the capital would discriminate against tens of thousands of disabled Londoners.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) had warned that the expansion of ULEZ would drive many disabled people into isolation and cause significant harm to many of them.
Although the mayor, Sadiq Khan, had already been planning some exemptions and mitigation for disabled people, DPOs told him these measures were not strong enough, and they called on him to do more.
Now the mayor has announced further exemptions.
ULEZ was introduced in 2019 to cover central London, and expanded to inner London last year, but it will now be extended again, from 29 August 2023, this time to cover most of Greater London.
The aim of the ULEZ scheme is to clean the city’s toxic air, which the mayor said was “making us sick from cradle to the grave” with Londoners “developing life-changing illnesses, such as cancer, lung disease, dementia and asthma”.
He said ULEZ had already “been transformational, reducing harmful pollution levels by almost a half in central London”.
Under the scheme, a daily £12.50 charge is levied on older, more polluting vehicles.
The mayor has previously announced an exemption from ULEZ charges for those with blue badges until October 2027, but only to those with a vehicle tax exemption – mostly people with the enhanced rate mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP).
There were fears that the limited exemptions would leave many disabled people – and their care and health workers, personal assistants and carers – forced to pay the £12.50-a-day charge every time they used their car.
Now the mayor has announced that an exemption will be allowed for all those who receive the standard and enhanced rate of the PIP mobility component, the higher mobility rate of disability living allowance, and some other disability benefits, as well as all those with wheelchair-accessible vehicles and some vehicles with other adaptations.
The new exemption will also apply to those who live outside London, although everyone will need to register with Transport for London (TfL) if they want to take advantage of it. The exemption will begin on 30 January 2023 and end on 24 October 2027.
TfL said it would “continue to explore with London boroughs how those holding blue badges who are not automatically eligible under the proposed benefits criteria for the grace period could be eligible”.
The mayor has also announced a £110 million car scrappage scheme – which will open on 30 January 2023 – that will support disabled Londoners, Londoners on lower incomes, charities, small businesses and sole traders.
Those receiving certain means-tested benefits and non-means-tested disability benefits can apply for grants of up to £2,000 to scrap their non-compliant cars or motorcycles.
Disabled people who want to scrap a non-compliant wheelchair-accessible vehicle and those with certain other adaptations will be able to apply for grants of £5,000.
Disabled people can also apply through the scheme on behalf of a nominated driver who lives at a different address if they do not drive themselves.
Sadiq Khan said he had “listened to feedback” during the consultation process “including from disabled people and the organisations that represent them”.
Inclusion London said this week that it was “delighted that the mayor and TfL have taken on board our feedback about the negative financial impact the ULEZ expansion would have on disabled Londoners and took steps to mitigate it”.
Earlier this year, Inclusion London held an online meeting of London DPOs and disabled people so they could raise their concerns with Christina Calderato, TfL’s director of transport strategy and policy.
An Inclusion London spokesperson said: “We as Londoners all want to live in a city with clean air free from pollution.
“This will have a hugely positive impact on disabled Londoners as well.
“We are delighted the mayor has listened to our concern about the disproportionate negative impact of ULEZ charges on disabled people, many of whom will not be able to afford a new car or are unable to travel by public transport.
“There are significant improvements in the scheme when it comes to disabled people.
“We welcome the exemptions and the enhanced funding for disabled Londoners through the scrappage scheme.
“We do believe that the ultimate aim should be to ensure every disabled Londoner who is not able to travel by public transport has access to a ULEZ compliant car.
“We look forward to working with the mayor and Transport for London to ensure we achieve this goal.”
Inclusion London said it was concerned that ULEZ was still failing to exempt all blue badge holders, and that the scrappage scheme would not cover the full cost of any adaptations, particularly as the average additional cost of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle is £30,000.
It said it was “committed to continue working with the mayor and TfL between now and the implementation of the policy to ensure the ULEZ expansion will be fairer to all disabled people”.
Kush Kanodia, a disabled ambassador for Disability Rights UK, who has campaigned for an expansion of the exemptions for disabled people, welcomed the mayor’s new concessions.
But he said it was “disgraceful” that they were not implemented last year, at the height of the Covid pandemic, when ULEZ was expanded to cover all of inner London, when the concessions would have prevented discrimination and the risk of financial hardship for many disabled Londoners “in a pandemic and cost of living crisis”.
Like Inclusion London, he said he was concerned that ULEZ was still failing to exempt all blue badge holders, and that the scrappage scheme would not cover the full cost of any adaptations.
Kanodia said: “There are approximately a quarter of a million blue badge holders in London and many will not receive any of the benefits on the new exemption criteria list.
“Unfortunately, many cities in England have now replicated the disability discrimination from the existing ULEZ, for new clean air zones from Birmingham, Bath, Bradford, Portsmouth, to future cities in Bristol [which went live this week], Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester.”
He called on the government to create a “standardised policy” for all clean air and low emission zones with “adequate reasonable adjustments for disabled people”.
He said: “Disabled people have already been the most disproportionately impacted from austerity, the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis.
“Climate action must go hand-in-hand with climate justice and social justice, to prevent further increases in poverty and inequality.”
It is also possible to claim a ULEZ reimbursement from certain NHS trusts for the ULEZ charge for appointments through the NHS, if the disabled person is at “moderate or high risk” from Covid, and in some cases if they are “too ill, weak or disabled to travel to an appointment on public transport”, if the person who transported them to the hospital does not have an exemption for their vehicle.
Picture: Greater London Authority
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