Cornwall accused of 'taxing disability' with £3,800 parking fee

Council reconsidering charge for a designated bay outside a home, which in Devon would be free

People with disabilities are being charged almost £4,000 by Cornwall council for a designated parking bay outside their homes.

The council has been accused of in effect taxing some of the most vulnerable in society by charging for a disabled parking spot.

Other authorities – including neighbouring Devon – set up disabled bays for free or charge only a nominal fee.

Among those calling for Cornwall council to drop the charge is Debs Race, who has multiple sclerosis and struggles to park outside her home in St Austell.

She said: “I’ve had MS for 20 years but, after breaking my hand, walking with a stick while carrying shopping is just about impossible. I have to park in front of my house.”

Race reserves her slot with traffic cones – and her neighbours do not make a fuss – but when she looked into the possibility of getting a disabled bay she was shocked at the cost.

“They expect you to find that money yourself. I wouldn’t mind paying something but that seems an outrageous cost. Having a parking spot is not a luxury for me but I can’t justify spending that amount of money.”

Race pointed out that even if she did pay for a parking spot it would not be hers but would be available for anyone who had a disabled badge.

The issue was raised at a council meeting on Tuesday when her local councillor Richard Pears called it a “tax on disability”. He said the most he had found other councils charging was £100 and others created disabled bays for free.

Pears said: “We all have to deal with busy streets across our county and the parking difficulties this causes. For most of us this is an inconvenience, we may have to park on another street and walk home with the shopping.

“But for people with some specific disabilities, this is just not an option. Without a guaranteed space outside their house they have no way to access their car, and we all know that in a rural area like ours a car can be a lifeline, the difference between having a job and losing it, the difference between being mobile and being confined to your home.”

He continued: “Just across the border in Devon, accessible bays appear to be free. Here in Cornwall, one of the most deprived areas in Europe, we charge £3,800. We are charging 30 times more than the most expensive council we could find in Britain.

“The council’s current policy on accessible bays amounts to nothing more than a tax on disability.”

Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said: “Not only is this charge extortionate, it doesn’t make sense that the cost would differ so widely based on where you live. Ultimately this is a decision to tax society’s most vulnerable people and it’s incredibly unfair.

“MS affects 100,000 of us in the UK and symptoms like pain, fatigue and mobility problems can have a huge impact on people’s lives. Disabled parking bays can make a difference in coping with them so we hope Cornwall council rethinks this charge.”

James Mustoe, a councillor for the fishing village of Mevagissey, said: “We are urging Cornwall council to end this unfair and discriminatory policy and have cross-party support for these proposals.”

The issue will now be considered by the cabinet of the council, which is led by an Independent-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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