Posted by Madeleine Speed, the Pelvic Partnership. May 2015
Since the reform of the Blue badge parking scheme there are far fewer badges issued to applicants - an amazing 130,000 fewer than before the scheme was reformed in 2012 (according to BBC 4 Radio Programme 'You and Yours' which went out on 30th January). So is the scheme letting down people with disabilities?
If PGP symptoms have meant that you cannot walk more than a few minutes without difficulty and pain, you will know firsthand how difficult it can be to pick up medicines, food or just to call in on friends. The Blue badge parking scheme is a topic that we have visited a number of times over the last decade but it comes up regularly and it isn't surprising that women with severe PGP hope the scheme may help increase their quality of life.
The scheme is designed to help people with mobility problems to park close to shops and amenities where drivers without the badge would not be allowed to park. In some areas, including Oxfordshire, there was a scheme for providing temporary permits, which was very helpful to women with PGP. However, it is very unusual for women to receive a blue badge now, unless they have a very long-standing problem.
Before the reforms took place, it was possible for GPs to decide whether or not a patient's mobility problems warranted a blue badge. Some critics felt that this system was flawed because there were no set criteria that GPs had to use and the approach wasn't thought to be uniform across the UK. However, the biggest problem with the scheme seems to have been the level of corruption it introduced, with blue badges changing hands for breathtaking amounts of money! As a result, the scheme was reviewed in 2012 and a new system was rolled out.
Following the review, it seems much harder to obtain a badge and the scheme has also been criticised for the way it assesses eligibility. The first (and probably biggest issue in terms of Pelvic Partnership members), is that one aspect of eligibility is the need to 'have a permanent and substantial disability' which means 'you cannot walk, or have very considerable difficulty walking'. A core belief at the Pelvic Partnership is that PGP is fundamentally a biomechanical problem of stiff or stuck pelvic joints. With manual therapy from an experienced physiotherapist or similar professional, the symptoms can usually be overcome. This makes it much harder to argue that the disability caused by PGP is 'permanent'.
Is there really a need for an applicant to show they have a 'permanent' disability if each recipient of a badge is reviewed after three years? If mobility did improve considerably (as we hope it would), couldn't the badge just be returned because its job had been done?
Another frustration with the current system is that although the review tried to introduce criteria that were set and applicable across the UK (so everyone is asked the same questions and rated identically). Sadly, the playing field appears to be anything but level. The charity Disabled Motoring UK has learnt that the independent assessors who have been going through the criteria with individuals are not necessarily trained to carry out this function instead some have been admin staff. The Government's Driving and Transport Department has confirmed that the assessments must be carried out by an independent assessor who should be suitably trained e.g. a physiotherapist or occupational health professional. Such a professional is vital for carrying out a proper assessment of the applicant and it seems that not all local authorities are employing healthcare professionals to carry out the assessments.
The Government's website suggests that you can apply online (see https://www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge). In theory this is great - no need to go into a department in person and get a particular hard copy. However, it's not clear whether the initial application is followed up by an individual assessment; if not, it may suggest that no independent assessor is being used to give the applicant a fair appraisal. If this is the case it may be even easier for a local authority to turn down the application.
Critics also argue that where a local authority refuses to award a badge, the applicant who appeals should have their case reviewed fairly regardless of where they live and which authority they come under. However, consistency does seem suspect because, for instance, Swansea is an area where an appeal is three more times likely to be refused than anywhere else in the country.
It seems that there is sufficient concern about the new Blue badge parking system that another review may be on the cards. What do you think? Are there any readers who used to have a Blue badge but haven't been awarded one recently? Do you think people with a disability that isn't permanent and may be overcome (such as for severe PGP symptoms or a broken limb that should mend, etc) should be eligible for a Blue badge for a period until they make a recovery? Please contact us via the website and let us know what you think. Ideally, please contact your local MP to ask for a review of the Blue badge system because you are aware that the criteria are not being used consistently across the UK and that assessors are not always qualified physios or Occupational health staff. Most importantly, you may want to say that the scheme should not penalize a woman with PGP who may overcome symptoms given the right treatment of good manual therapy.