Blue badge holders and the finger wagging brigade

Who are we to judge somebody else's right to a disabled parking space?

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The Independent Online

The looks say it all:

“How dare you park in that disabled space with your young family. You’re worse than Hitler.”

If the person delivering this non-verbal admonishment is a fellow blue badge holder they’ll usually be elderly, and they’ll typically then stalk off stiff backed, inevitably at a far greater clip than I could hope to manage.

Compared to me some of them look like Usain Bolt in pursuit of the Swedish women’s handball team.

Although writing that, I’m falling into the same trap, aren’t I? I’m judging them and I shouldn’t be. They may look quick compared to me, but most people do. And it’s highly likely that they need their badges for any number of invisible, but age related, conditions. Heart problems, cancers, arthritis, or hell, just chronic pain. What right have I to judge?

Not that it’s only fellow blue badge users who glower, point, or gesticulate if you happen to be under 60 when you pull up into a disabled space with a blue badge prominently displayed.

Ordinary members of the public are quite capable of wagging their fingers, at least until my wife has fetched my sticks, or my wheelchair, out of the back of the car, or until they see the great big caliper I wear on my right shoe.

I’m not alone in experiencing this. Within a few weeks of the Paralympics I remember reading a tweet written by the wheelchair rugby player Kylie Grimes - she’s a quadraplegic by the way - who talked about experiencing something similar, while lamenting how quickly the Games’ goodwill had faded away. 

I’ve a friend who has a child suffering from leukaemia who said the same thing. The automatic assumption appears to be that if you have a badge and you’re not elderly you must be a filthy cheat and probably a scrounger to boot who deserves a good long spell in the modern equivalent of the stocks (for which see exposure by the tabloids).

In part I blame the government for fostering a climate in which anyone in receipt of help like this must be a scrounger or a fraudster or both. It’s so much easier to push through cuts if the victims of those cuts are seen as undeserving. Isn’t it Mr Iain Duncan-Smith?

Take it from me, contrary to the popular belief it is anything but easy to get hold of a blue badge. You have to fill in a long and complicated form, backed up with medical evidence, which then has to be submitted to the local council for an assessment which can take several weeks.

And if you don’t check up on the conditions in the borough you plan to travel to (they vary wildly) you’re just as likely to get a ticket as anyone else.

Undoubtedly there is fraud. But I’m willing to bet that - in common with other disability benefits - the level of it is very low.

The best of it is that it is becoming increasingly hard to use a blue badge in the first place.

The spaces at our local supermarket reserved for holders are frequently choked with cars with nary a badge in site. They always seem to be either BMWs or four by fours. Or both. The management of the supermarket seem not to care; that was certainly what a member of staff told my wife when she raised the issue.

The same goes for the very limited number of spaces in central London, which I use because I attend a nerve clinic there and driving is the only safe way to get there. 

People don’t tend to leave their cars in the spaces, the traffic wardens in Westminster are too zealous to allow that. But they see nothing wrong with sitting and waiting in disabled spaces, while keeping an eagle eye out for the wardens. They’ll move for the latter, but not always for someone entitled to use the space.

I find this astonishing. I would never have parked in a disabled space when I was fully able bodied. I would have found the idea unthinkable. But an increasingly large number of people appear to feel otherwise.

It does strike me that we blue badge users, and our friends and families, need to stop judging each other and questioning the rights of each other to use the badge, and instead focus our ire on those people who are fit, and healthy, but who see nothing wrong with misusing spaces which are there for those who aren’t so lucky.

And the same goes for the finger wagging brigade.