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Disabled treated 'like second class citizens' under Barnet Council plans to charge for blue badges
Disabled people are being treated like “second class citizens” under council plans to start charging for blue parking badges, according to a leading charity.
Disability Action believes the authority is profiteering from those with mobility issues because it sees them as an “easy target”.
Barnet Council hopes to recoup almost £200,000 by charging £10 to issue the special permits, which allow users to park closer to amenities and on single yellow lines.
The move is part of a wave of disabled transport reforms being proposed by the authority, including the scrapping of the Travel Voucher Scheme, which provides discounted taxis to people with mobility issues.
Jeff Rafael, trustee of Disability Action Barnet, said: “Disabled people are seen as a soft target. The council throws money at children and young people’s services because it looks good but then cuts it from the disabled.
“It is like we’re being charged for being disabled. No-one is disabled by choice and it feels like we’re being victimised – it’s ridiculous.
“They’re cutting back on disabled groups across the borough – it’s like they consider us second class citizens and an easy target.”
The badges, issued every three years, have always been free but new government guidelines say local councils can charge a maximum of £10 to cover some of the administration costs.
Barnet Council says its costs £20 to issue one badge, a figure that is likely to be reduced following a restructuring programme introduced earlier this year.
Mr Rafael said: “If they are going to charge, they need to make sure the spaces are available. Nine times out of ten I get to a space and it is parked in by someone without a badge or who is not the intended user. The council needs to clamp down more heavily.”
Conservative-run Barnet Council says the changes to its statutory transport provision will make it easier for disabled groups to have independent mobility.
Under the proposals, which will not be voted on until later this year, the council plans to train volunteer organisations to provide help for people with mobility issues.
The Travel Voucher Scheme will be abandoned in favour of the London-wide Taxicard, though critics say it is more expensive and less flexible than Barnet’s own scheme.
The council argues that only 95 people regularly use its system and that it is expensive to run but Mr Rafael blames the council for a lack of publicity.
He said: “They don’t advertise their own scheme enough which is why so few people use it. This is an inherent fault across the benefits system – the attitude seems to be if you know about it, well done, if not why should we tell you?”
Cabinet member and adult portfolio holder Councillor Sachin Rajput has been involved in putting together the latest transport proposals.
He believes the charges are fair and denied that the authority was picking on minority groups.
He said: “We have less money across our services and we want to make sure we can deliver the same standards on that budget.
“When people use other transport options in the borough they contribute a large amount towards that so I think it is fair that this modest charge for the blue badges reflects that.
“We’re certainly not targeting the disabled. We need to look at all council service users and taxpayers as fairly as possible. We need to positively look at disabled groups and make sure they’re given as much, if not more, help. I think a lot of people will welcome these changes.”