My name is Mary and, er, I drive a Motability car. I feel duty bound to admit this, because Motability – thanks in part to government efforts to stem the rise in invalidity payments and in part to revelations in Sunday newspapers – is fast becoming just another insult hurled by the able-bodied at those they believe to be milking their disabilities. Only yesterday the Daily Mail "exposed" a lottery winner who still claimed every last penny in benefits and his Motability car.
It's important to sift fact from fiction. Motability is a scheme that leases cars, some of them specially adapted, to disabled people. The cars are not handed out free: people pay out of the mobility element of their disability benefits, which is then docked at source. If you choose to lease a car, you will have to find the money for other things you might need to get around – a scooter, for instance, or taxis – from your own resources. You can also pay extra to widen the choice of car. Whatever you decide, though, makes no difference to the taxpayer. Those who qualify for a mobility allowance receive it anyway.
The reason I drive a Motability car is because my husband has Parkinson's Disease and walks only with difficulty. The cost takes quite a chunk out of his income – which is minimal, because most other benefits are means-tested according to my salary. And I drive the car because his condition means he can't. If we were both entirely mobile, we might well not keep a car. Motability, a government-assisted scheme, makes driving that bit cheaper and more convenient than it would otherwise be.
Like much relating to benefits, Motability has been abused. Teenagers were reportedly driving around in £30k BMWs, and there were relatives and friends taking advantage of someone's eligibility to acquire a new car on favourable terms. It happens, and probably still will, even though Motability has tightened its rules.
I suspect, though, that the nefarious exploitation of Motability – including by dealers trying to maximise custom – is nothing compared with the endemic abuse of blue badges. Every so often I have words with someone walking briskly, and quite unaided, from a car they've just left in a disabled bay. The latest was a young woman in towering stilettos, who emerged from a car with a personalised plate and an Ealing parking permit. Often, as she did, they point to the badge in their window.
And how are wardens to know, unless they see someone actually leaving the car, that she is probably not the person entitled to the badge or, if she is, that something has to be wrong with a system that awards her a blue badge, but ruled my 80-plus mother with a disabling foot problem ineligible.
A couple of years ago, I saw someone making a copy of a blue badge in a print-shop and thought nothing of it. Now, I would ask why. And if that, or challenging someone not obviously entitled to privileged parking, is called abusing the disabled, I demur. I'd call it showing civic responsibility.
Just get me to the airport on time
You might call it the Andy Murray tendency. We British have a wonderful knack of getting something almost right, and then failing at the final point. The Gatwick Express, the train that takes half an hour to cover what by road takes at least twice that, has at once raised its prices and stopped ticket purchase on board. So everyone has to buy a ticket before boarding – which results in queuing, fumbling for currency or cards, new opportunities for thieves, and general mayhem. They want you to buy well in advance, but why, when you can't be sure it will run?
How much of what is saved by not having a conductor on the train is lost from the general crossness of travellers? The Heathrow Express, even more expensive, still offers purchase on board at a premium. Is convenience, perhaps, something only presumed business travellers can expect? Meanwhile, both services have this infuriating advertising pitch about discounts and "deals". Please, we're not going for a fun trip to the bazaar, we're just trying to get home or on holiday. And we want a smooth journey at a fair price, with minimal hassle in between.