This morning I woke to the news that our beloved Chancellor George Osborne has been caught parking in a bay reserved for disabled people – my heart sank.
“What’s the harm in that?” you might ask, “we all do it from time to time.” Like with many questions that relate to disability, the answer isn’t simple and in today’s increasingly hostile climate, it’s one that might easily be dismissed. Nevertheless, it’s a question I firmly believe requires an answer.
In March 2011 my mobility began to deteriorate and after a sprained ankle that refused to heal I realised I needed to move out of my fourth floor lair and into somewhere safer – somewhere without stairs!
Tourettes Syndrome goes far beyond public perceptions of the ‘swearing disease’ and affects all aspects of my life, including my mobility. In November 2011 with the help of friends and family I was able to move into the castle, which is on the ground floor and has virtually step-free access. Shortly after this I began using a wheelchair for much of the time to help minimise the damage my increasingly chaotic walking was causing.
Moving house always requires plenty of paperwork and correspondence with official bodies. One of the first things I did when I moved in was apply for a disabled parking bay to be put in outside the castle. Several months later, when all the consultation had finally been concluded, I was delighted to discover the new bay had been put in only a few metres from my front door.
I work full time for a children’s organisation in South London and in order to get there and back I take a minicab every day. Having access to the disabled parking bay’s been invaluable to me, and to the drivers who collect me and bring me home.
Naturally I’m quite protective of the bay and pay a lot of attention to who’s parking in it. On numerous occasions I’ve got ready to explain to drivers who’ve parked there how important access to that spot is to me, only to discover they’ve got a blue badge sitting on the dashboard.
It’s a very satisfying feeling knowing that other disabled drivers are able to benefit from the bay I went to the effort of getting put in, and it goes to show what a valuable and well used asset these parking spaces are to those that need them.
On Monday the Government pushed through legislation that’ll have a devastating impact on disabled people, and many more besides, living in this country. From the back door sell off of the NHS, to the scrapping of Legal Aid and Disability Living Allowance, these changes are only going to make poor and vulnerable people poorer and more vulnerable.
I was able to apply for the bay outside my house only because I have a blue badge. I was able to get the blue badge because I met the threshold for the high mobility component of DLA. Now DLA’s been scrapped and replaced by the deeply unpopular Personal Independence Payment (PIP) there’s a chance I might not qualify for the blue badge scheme because of the subtle but cynical changes to the eligibility criteria. If I needed to appeal this decision I’d no longer have access to Legal Aid to help fight my corner. And if I had a roadside accident because there was no disabled bay to park in, I’d have to rely on an NHS that’s being wilfully degraded and dismantled by a government whose interests don’t seem to extend beyond their own investment portfolios.
Public sector services are intricately interlinked and when they’re damaged or destroyed, people – particularly the most vulnerable in society – are damaged too.
So why did my heat sink when I read about George Osborne casually parking in a disabled bay? Because the thought of a self-serving millionaire who can afford to park absolutely anywhere, sticking a Chelsea Tractor in a space reserved for disabled people while he popped off for some lunch, in the same week that these inexcusable cuts have been forced though, is too disgusting for words.
Disability’s something that can affect people at any time in their lives and when it does, seemingly insignificant details such as drop curbs, grab rails, and safe places to park, become very important indeed.
One day it could be you looking for a disabled parking bay only to find it’s been taken by an ‘unaware’ Chancellor climbing into a Land Rover with a plastic bag full of motorway food.
My heart sank, but not before my stomach turned.