Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former councillor in Suffolk.
The Government recently announced that it is introducing new legislation to extend the Blue Badge scheme from October. This will allow people who are recovering from hip or knee replacements, strokes, or other serious illnesses which inhibit mobility, temporary permission to use designated disabled car-parking spaces until they recover.
This is very welcome news, enabling more people to get out and about when they may otherwise be reluctant to leave their homes, being unable to walk far, and missing out on theatre/cinema visits and other social occasions, which encourage wellbeing and confidence when people feel debilitated and don’t want to ask for help.
However, I hope the legislation also strengthens penalties for those who abuse the system. It is easier to monitor in paid-for spaces, but less so in our large supermarket car parks, where, increasingly, I’ve noticed that seemingly fit people without blue badges on their cars are using disabled spaces for their ‘convenience’. In particular, anyone buying bulky items seems to feel especially justified in using these spaces.
Over a couple of days recently, I first saw a smart young woman drive straight into a disabled space outside Pets at Home in her company branded Mini, springing out of the car and rushing into the store, where she walked rapidly around the shelving collecting items. As she left and I got into my own car, a further three people (2 women, 1 man) – again perfectly fit people ‘in a hurry’ took up all three of the available disabled spaces; none of them returned with bulky items and there were plenty of vacant ordinary spaces nearby, which could have been used.
A day later, outside Homebase, another elegant (middle-aged) woman was parked in a disabled space near the entrance, packing her new Range Rover with plants. She then marched across to Sainsbury’s, which shares the site. Being a weekday, there was plenty of parking available adjacent to both stores to enable loading. Such abuse even happens at Waitrose!
I’m ashamed that several of these examples were women, who are supposed to be more sensitive to others’ needs; the drivers were alone, so they couldn’t use the excuse that they were helping a disabled or elderly person. But it is evident that people of all ages and both sexes now seem programmed to ignore what is, effectively, an unwritten code which I thought we were all educated to respect.
Surprisingly, retail staff in all the stores were helpless, unable to enforce the code, and this should change. Members of the public could help by politely challenging those who abuse it, but only when safe to do so – some people can be very rude, even to those in wheelchairs who have to park elsewhere because of their selfishness!
The best option is for local authorities to take the lead, by launching local media campaigns whilst also developing colourful graphic signage which businesses can install alongside the designated spaces, so there can be no excuses that someone didn’t notice the markings. A competition for the best design would immediately raise awareness of the problem – and hopefully shame people into improving their behaviour.