If you wish to apply for a disabled blue badge in West Sussex, you can fill out this form. Until recently, the first page of this form carried the statement
Please note – in order to meet our criteria, your doctor must confirm you can not walk more than 45 metres (50 yards) without an aid.
This has now been removed from the form – I am not quite sure why – but the criteria for receiving a blue badge are still, on paper at least, quite exacting. You must either
- be in receipt of the Disability Living Allowance (in which case you must be “unable to walk, or ﬁnd walking very hard, or you need help to get around”)
- use a motor vehicle supplied by either the Department for Work and Pensions, the Scottish Home and Health Department, or the Welsh Office
- be registered blind
- get a War Pensioners Mobility Supplement
- have a severe disability in both arms and be am unable to turn, by hand, the steering wheel, even if it is fitted with a steering knob
- have a permanent and substantial physical impairment which means you are unable to walk or have extreme discomfort in walking. Your inability to walk or extreme discomfort in walking must be permanent and not just spasmodic or temporary
So by my reckoning, the only people who should have blue badges are those who are blind, those who are war pensioners, those who cannot use their arms, or those who cannot walk without the assistance of a wheelchair, stick, or another human being. (I am assuming that the Department for Work and Pensions does not just give out vehicles to those who do not genuinely deserve them.)
How does this translate to reality?
West Sussex town centres are becoming congested because of abuse of the blue badge system which gives parking concessions to the severely disabled. Also, the county has a disproportionately high number of blue badge holders compared to similar authorities.
How high is this number?
West Sussex currently [has] more than 54,000 blue badge holders. The national average is 45 per 1,000 in the population, compared with 67 per 1,000 in West Sussex. There are currently 11,678 badges in Arun district, 8,164 in Chichester district, 6,335 in Crawley, 7,011 in Mid Sussex, 7,572 in Horsham, 5,046 in Adur and 8,218 in Worthing.
There are 781,000 people in West Sussex, and (more than) 54,000 blue badges. By my maths that is actually 69 blue badges per 1,000 – but either way, that is an extraordinarily high number. If we take these numbers at face value, seven out of every one hundred people in West Sussex are unable to walk, or have extreme difficulty in walking, or are blind, or cannot use their arms.
Obviously I cannot say whether this is the case or not, but I think it is safe to assume it is pretty unlikely. Anecdotally, at least, there does not seem to be much evidence of such a high proportion of people who cannot propel themselves about unaided. And West Sussex County Council seem to agree, given that this is now an issue that is appearing on their radar – albeit, it seems, mainly because of the congestion it is causing to motor traffic. The two issues that the council are looking at are the apparent ease with which badges can be obtained, and also the farcical effortlessness with which badges can be retained, and used, by unscrupulous relatives after the death of a genuinely disabled person (to say nothing of the casual use of badges by friends and relatives of the still alive).
There are concerns that blue badges are continuing to be used by relatives after the badge holder has died. Councillors are now calling for information on deaths, currently held by the council registration service, to be released to prevent this fraud.
Concerns were also expressed at the meeting at the large number of the badges [that] are issued following assessments by GPs. There were calls from some members for the work to be done by the county’s occupational therapy service instead, and this idea will be looked at.
Clearly it is both far too easy to obtain a blue badge (I am not sure how rigorously GPs are assessing applicants – it may be easier for them to just simply sign the form rather than deal with a moaning patient), and also far too easy to use one that is not yours. On top of that, we have A) a perverse incentive to use a blue badge – it allows you to park for free, pretty much anywhere you like, and is thus perfect for lazy and/or cheap people who want to park right outside their shop of choice without having to bother with paying for parking – and B) also a complete lack of disincentive. Penalty charges for fraudulent use of a blue badge are derisive – see this article about a ‘clampdown’ last year in Leeds, for example.
A pilot enforcement scheme which began in January has so far checked 134 badges and found that 78 (58%) were being wrongfully used. Penalty charges of £25 to £35 have been introduced but nobody has yet been prosecuted or had a badge withdrawn.
£25 to £35? Ouch! Of course, a regular fraudulent blue badge user could easily save that amount of money in just a few avoided car parking charges. A fine that small is practically an encouragement to keep on using the blue badge after you’ve been caught, let alone any kind of disincentive (notice also that the blue badges were not even withdrawn from those people who were caught using them fraudulently – a genuine ‘clampdown’ if ever I have seen one.)
Put these four factors together, and you have a recipe for West Sussex town centres blocked up with cars parked on double yellow lines (I am not speaking figuratively – it is quite common for buses passing through the one-way Horsham Carfax to be halted for half an hour or more because a negligent ‘blue badge user’ has parked on a double yellow line in such a position that large vehicles simply cannot pass), and disabled parking bays increasingly occupied by people who walk off at full speed, having contemptuously tossed their blue badge onto their dashboard. Like the lady I saw parking in the disabled bay outside Orchard surgery last week, who proceed to walk quickly, in high heels, to Wilkinsons, to do her shopping. Or the BMW driver who parked in the Causeway, and marched off to Lloyds bank in West Street at a pace I could barely keep up with. Or the man who regularly parks in the Causeway, using a disabled blue badge, who appears to be employed by the council (he wears a council hi-viz jacket), and walks around the town picking up litter.
People like this are obviously not disabled, and yet they are getting away with it, making genuinely disabled people’s lives more difficult, and clogging up our town centres with their cars – all because they want to get a little closer to their shop of choice, and avoid paying for the privilege.
(Or because they are working for the council, and fancy some free parking right next to their place of work. That’s just too weird.)
(The quotes in the latter part of this post are from a West Sussex Gazette article, dated April 28th 2010 – again, sadly not available online).