The mayor of London’s plans for a huge expansion of the capital’s low emission zone for cars could have a drastic and discriminatory impact on disabled people, say campaigners.
They fear that the current, limited exemptions for disabled people will leave many of them – and their care and health workers, personal assistants and carers – forced to pay the £12.50-a-day charge every time they use a car.
Now they are launching a new bid to crowdsource funding* so that a barrister can deliver a legal opinion on whether Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s actions are breaching disabled people’s human rights and the Equality Act.
The concerns have been mounting as the existing Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – which currently only covers central London, and levies the daily £12.50 charge on older, more polluting light vehicles – is to be significantly expanded on 25 October to cover the entire area within the capital’s north and south circular roads.
Although there will be a three-year exemption for those with blue badges, it only applies to those with a vehicle tax exemption.
This means that those with a registered vehicle – mostly people with the enhanced rate mobility component of personal independence payment – will qualify for the three-year ULEZ exemption, but those without a vehicle that is registered tax exempt will not.
The campaign is being led by Kush Kanodia (pictured), a disabled ambassador for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), who also led a successful campaign to persuade the government to scrap parking charges for blue badge-holders in NHS carparks in England.
Disabled people’s organisations backing him include Inclusion London, DR UK and Action Disability Kensington and Chelsea.
Kanodia told Disability News Service that the mayor’s failure to act was “disgraceful” and that he was “trampling over our human rights”.
He said the plans would have a “significantly detrimental impact” on tens of thousands of disabled people in London, at a time when they had already been the group most disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
He said: “Unfortunately, nobody is currently looking at the cumulative impact of the pandemic and the renewed austerity upon disabled people, with rising food and energy prices, cuts to goods and services, and the £20-per-week cut to universal credit coming just a few weeks before these brutal ULEZ charges.”
Kanodia said that disability was already one of the strongest predictors of poverty, and that it was “completely unacceptable to impose new barriers upon disabled people”, particularly when only about a third of London’s tube stations were step-free.
He contrasted the treatment of blue badge-holders with the mayor’s decisions to grant a ULEZ exemption to diesel-fuelled black cabs and to approve the new Silvertown tunnel road crossing under the Thames.
Kanodia said: “It’s truly hypocritical that they can exempt all the diesel black cabs and approve a four-lane Silvertown tunnel, which will create more pollution than an exemption for disabled blue badge-holders and their carers.”
He and his supporters are supportive of the overall “progressive” aims of ULEZ, but they say the current limited exemptions breach disabled people’s rights and the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.
They believe that the assessment carried out by the mayor of the impact of the extension of ULEZ failed to take proper account of how it would affect disabled people.
Kanodia said: “How can they have done an appropriate equality impact assessment and made reasonable adjustments when they do not even know how many disabled blue badge-holders are within the expanded ULEZ or know how many of the vehicles they currently are using are non-compliant?”
He and his fellow campaigners want the mayor to agree to the same reasonable adjustments that are already in place for London’s congestion charge zone, granting temporary ULEZ exemptions for all those with blue badges – whether they have their own car or not – and their care workers.
Kanodia fears that if the mayor does not adjust his plans, other UK cities will copy the London blueprint.
The mayor’s office has told Kanodia that there are about 250,000 disabled people with blue badges in the capital, but that it is “difficult to determine the exact proportion of ULEZ compliance in the Blue Badge fleet” although it has produced a rough estimate that about 50,000 vehicles used by blue badge holders would be “non-compliant” with the new expanded ULEZ.
Heidi Alexander, the deputy mayor for transport, has said that exempting all vehicles used by blue badge holders would “lead to an unacceptably large number of more polluting vehicles being used in London for longer” and would “reduce the vital health benefits of the scheme”.
The mayor’s office had failed to respond to requests to comment by noon today (Thursday).
*The link goes live at 8.25pm today (Thursday, 23 September)
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