By Adrian Chan-Wyles
THE ULTRA-right-wing Council of the London Borough of Sutton, south London, has continued to support and perpetuate the latest national trend of demonising and attacking people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities undergo a vigorous medical test and examination when they apply to be accepted for the Blue Badge Holder Scheme, which allows for the parking of vehicles (carrying, or driven by disabled people), on double and single yellow lines for up to three hours without charge. The Blue Badge is also for vehicles carrying disabled people to use priority parking places next hospital entrances, bus and train stations, as well easily accessible spaces in council run car parks in the borough, and so on. The Blue Badge may also be used in this manner nationally in Britain, and throughout the European Union.
The Blue Badge Scheme acknowledges that people with disabilities, being more or less permanently excluded from mainstream society, need extra-help and encouragement to travel unhindered around the area (and country) that they live in. As rich families in such places as conservative Sutton often own more than one car, parking spaces are highly competitive and difficult to acquire, and as many people with disabilities have to exist on an ever retreating welfare system in Britain, parking can be very expensive in the area. This social and financial pressure serves to alienate people with disabilities to an ever greater extent, and explains why the Blue Badge Scheme is important to encourage participation within society and a movement away from isolated living.
The current British Con-Dem Coalition has unleashed a tirade of anti-disability rhetoric and action across Britain, with an increase of attacks against people with disabilities by 75 per cent, as clearly shown in Katharine Quarmby’s excellent study entitled Scapegoat – Why We are Failing Disabled People. Quarmby makes the following points that nine out of 10 people in Britain have never invited a person with disabilities into their home; only two in 10 people have disabled friends, eight out of 10 children with learning difficulties are bullied at school, nearly 50 per cent of disabled people have recently experienced or witnessed physical abuse, and the number of Disability Hate Crimes reported has risen by 75 per cent in one year alone. This clearly shows that within a capitalist society that has a national government espousing right-wing rhetoric and pursuing hateful policies, it is the minority under-classes, such as the disabled, that disproportionally suffer the most.
On 1st November 2013, the Parking Services department of Sutton Council issued a letter to all Blue Badge Holders within the borough, stating that residents of the exclusive Belmont area of the city have requested that Sutton Council revoke the right of disabled vehicle owners to park in permit parking bays in the area. Blue Badge Holders are informed that Ward Counsellors are in support of this measure and that Sutton Council will soon be amending the parking law.
Disabled people living in the area in question have not been consulted, nor have disabled people living in the borough in general. The local non-disabled residents of Belmont have expressed a dislike for the presence of those with disabilities legally parking in the area. What is extraordinary in this day and age of bureaucracy is that a small, bigoted group of people have had their concerns listened to, and legitimised by Sutton Council, and their demands immediately met with a change in local parking law.
If a similar group of local residents campaigned for school, hospitals, resources, and greater understanding between ethnic groups, for example, the wheels of council administration would turn very slowly until the demands were withdrawn, forgotten, or both. As it stands, people with disabilities living in the Belmont area, and those who would like to visit them, are now encouraged to apply for a parking permit and ”pay” like other residents in the area, thus undermining the practical and compassionate Blue Badge Scheme, and perpetuating the inequalities the scheme was set-up to over-come.