It’s a sign of the times. If you pass the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, you’re far more likely to see a phalanx of smart red mobility scooters parked on the terrace than a single old-fashioned bath chair. Over the past 10 years, battery-powered scooters have transformed the lives of many who need help getting around, and any gripes are less likely to come from the grateful owners – who include my husband – than from pedestrians at risk of being mown down by an over-enthusiastic driver.
Users have their quibbles, of course. Scooters can be clumsy. The range and design are quite limited and most batteries are heavy (I have difficulty lifting even a relatively light one.) Such is the boon these little vehicles have become, however, that the biggest problem is rarely voiced in public: the process of obtaining one. They are expensive to buy (the most rudimentary one will set you back around £400 and the more sophisticated run into thousands); you should test-drive quite a few, but a showroom with a decent selection can be far away and potential customers are, by definition, the less mobile.
The only alternatives are the internet or companies that offer to bring a demonstration model to your door. But none of this is as simple as it sounds – or it ought to be. Earlier this month, the Office of Fair Trading found that Roma, a scooter company in Bridgend, had entered an agreement with half a dozen online retailers across the UK that prevented them from selling its scooters on-line, or advertising its prices.
The OFT found that such practices limited choice and hindered customers from comparing prices. Indeed. And I wouldn’t mind betting that this company is not unique. For four years now, the OFT has been looking into the marketing and pricing of mobility aids, including scooters and even wheelchairs. It found price differences of £3,000 for the same model of scooter. Which? magazine has reported numerous instances of pressure selling.
It’s not good enough for the OFT and others to tell customers to take advice, know their rights, and complain about malpractice, when so much of the marketing seems exploitative – prices only on application, for instance. All anyone wants is a modern means of personal transport and reliable information to find it. The consumer watchdog needs to bark more loudly on our behalf than it is.
£148k per child? Come off it
And so to the other end of the age spectrum. The Child Poverty Action Group, a charity that bombards my inbox with dire warnings about the impact of this government’s policies on children (OK, that’s its job), has released a new estimate of how much it costs to bring up a child. This year’s figure is £148,000, up 4 per cent on last year, at a time – it points out at length – when help from the state is in decline.
Now, I’m sorry, but it does not cost parents £160 a week to nourish a child (not much less than my monthly grocery bill for two people), or £8,000 a year (25 per cent more than an individual’s full state pension). And if it does, there’s something seriously wrong with the household budgeting – the baby’s behemoth of a pram, perhaps, or the teenager’s trophy mobile phone? Anyway, if cost was a real consideration, you might have thought it would be putting people off procreation. Not so. Last year’s UK birth rate was the highest for 40 years.