Today a certain Sunday newspaper is celebrating “a victory for the tax payer” as an announcement has been made that new rules will stop disabled people from benefiting from the use of luxury cars worth up to £37,000 through a taxpayer-funded scheme.
After a series of articles supposedly informing the public of the outrage that is the Motability Scheme I thought it was about time somebody bothered to present a defence of it. I do not work for Motability, I do not even use the scheme myself but because the newspapers won’t consider the other side, I’m going to, because the whole thing is getting right on my wick.
Right, deep breath. The Motability scheme is a tax payer funded scheme that gives hope and freedom to thousands of disabled people in this country, who would otherwise never be able to afford a car suitable for their needs, themselves. It is a car lease scheme. Lease being the important word there. It is not a willy nilly free luxury car giveaway scheme, as some sections of the media would have you believe. You are not eligible to use the scheme to get yourself the latest Audi TT if you have dyslexia. Or an in growing toe nail, or a nut allergy, or a sore thumb or a poorly tummy.
To be eligible to use the scheme you have to be receiving the highest rate of the mobility component of the disability living allowance. To receive this, you must be unable to walk or have your ability to walk severely impaired. Many conditions can fall into this category. I will list some. Arthritis, disease of muscles bones and joints, Paralysis, Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone disease, double amputation, spinal conditions such a Scoliosis or Spondylosis. These are conditions that often or always mean an individual affected by them either needs a wheelchair or has severe difficulty walking. There are also many conditions that can mean the act of walking, whilst physically possible for an individual is severely damaging to their health. Some of these may include Cystic Fibrosis, severe Asthma, Peripheral vascular disease, heart disease, lung disease, blood disorders such Sickle Cell Anaemia. There are also other conditions, where an individual may appear physically able to walk with healthy limbs but have severe neurological disorders that mean their brain is incapable of functioning in order to stimulate their limbs to facilitate the act of walking. People who have had strokes, people with Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, and many other neurological diseases and brain injuries fall into this category. There are also people who have severe learning difficulties and complex mental impairments that leave them dependent on a carer or family member to ensure their physical safety when completely simple daily tasks. They are incapable of independently walking without endangering themselves or others. It could mean for instance, a woman, of average height, build and strength is responsible for getting her adult Autistic son, 6ft, say 14 stone, safely to doctors and hospital appointments he is terrified of whilst being unable to reason with him, explain dangers or physically restrain him when he resists. A challenging, embarrassing and ultimately frightening task made unimaginably more difficult if you are solely reliant on public transport.
I may be wrong but none of these conditions sound much like a barrel of laughs. These conditions may mean the individual suffering from them may be reliant on a cocktail of pain killers to get out and about, they may be managing incontinence or serious fatigue. They may have needed assistance washing, dressing and managing basic general hygiene before you see them out and about. It may be the first time they have left the house in a month, they be travelling to have chemotherapy, they may be terminally ill. They may have needed to pay a carer to accompany them when you see them because their disability robs them of the independence to get out and about on their own. Some people may be managing some of those difficulties and still working, picking their kids up from school, having a social life. The scumbags.
People often express frustration that the cars leased (not given) to disabled people are big and/or expensive and are unable to understand why one model of car can’t be used for all those eligible, why new cars are available as opposed to second hand ones and why large saloon cars are available rather than just your standard “run around” hatchbacks. Quite simply, one model of car, specifically a hatchback would fall hopelessly short of meeting the needs of the vast majority of those eligible who rely on the scheme the most. Absolutely it would be sufficient for those who don’t rely on mobility aids, who don’t need adaptations, and who don’t have children or large amounts of luggage, or work equipment they need to transport, too.
The problem is if you throw a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair (which really for most, is a mobility essential) or adaptations into the mix, the process of finding a suitable car becomes all the more complex. Other factors like needing to be able to fit a couple of kids into the car or some luggage or some work equipment on top of that makes the process an absolute mine field. Some adaptations can only be fitted to new cars, some only useable in cars with automatic gearboxes. Most average hatchbacks are too small to carry the average wheelchair in the boot without dismantling the chairs, lots of chairs can’t be dismantled or folded or only to an extent. Wheelchair users usually require a saloon or an estate car, these are bigger and more expensive. To go away, some wheelchair users may need to take a shower chair with them in order to wash, sometimes portable but still usually heavy and fairly bulky these chairs are usually designed specifically for the individual. Some people can get around this, if they don’t need a custom made one by renting one from disability aid shops, if they can find one, at obviously, a cost. Some people may need to transport both a wheelchair and a walking frame at times because their condition fluctuates. Somebody unable to use their legs like myself, will essentially have to use their upper body strength to haul themselves into the car and then lift their own chair into the car by themselves if they wish to travel independently. Several adaptations can be made to make this easier but many have the attitude that if they are physically capable of doing so then they will do it on their own. Some of the considerations they will need to make in order to do this are the length of the door, the space between the car edge and car seat, the positioning of the gear stick and hand break and the ease of which they are able to adjust the positioning or the car seat. All cars are different, however none I imagine are made with the needs of a disabled person such as this specifically in mind. What seem like minor insignificant details to an able bodied person when choosing a car can be deal breakers for a disabled person.
Are you bored yet? Complicated isn’t it?
The issue of somebody other than the disabled person driving the car or the disabled person not always being in the car when it is used or the car residing at an address other than the disabled person’s also understandably causes confusion and concern. As the newspaper’s fail to consider legitimate reasons for this, preferring of course to drum up anger and resentment, I will endeavour to do so. Many disabled people are unable to drive themselves, it could be they don’t have enough mobility to, the strength to or it could be that they rely on painkillers to manage their pain thus making them dangerous to drive. So they rely on somebody else to drive them around, a relative or carer. Some disabled people are children, the laws forbids them from driving. They usually require a parent. It is often the case that due to very high fuel costs and the massive dependence families that include a disabled person or child have they are unable to run two cars. A Motability car often then has to be suitable to accommodate the needs of that family. A single mother for instance may need the use of an adapted vehicle to take her disabled child to school, she will then need to go to work or go out to do the weekly errands, usually a fair few more than the average parent without a disabled child. She may get a phone call at any time while she’s out asking her to come and pick the child up because they have come into difficulty at school. It would be ridiculous to expect the child’s parent to have used an alternative car or public transport to get home, pick up the adapted vehicle and then go get the child. Time may be imperative; they are probably stressed and worried and can do without some sort of car swapsy game to add to an already difficult situation. To save time, swap parent for partner or relative and imagine, that they may have to suddenly go home from work, or to the disabled partner’s work place to attend to them, or perhaps take them to the doctors. Imagine it may not be a partner but an elderly disabled relative and consider perhaps at times it may be somebody who doesn’t work or a younger, fitter grandson for instance that may be in possession of the car on occasion because they may be the person most capable of attending to the disabled person quickly. Sometimes people will take advantage of the circumstances and use the car when they don’t need to but it’s not all black and white, it’s not all straightforward abuse of the system and it is difficult to monitor.
Using alternative methods of transport is simply not a viable option for many disabled people. I’d challenge anybody able bodied to have a shot at a week endeavouring to use public transport and taxis in a wheelchair. It may be getting more accessible for wheelchair users but I can assure you it’s still a bloody nightmare. Some might describe it as hit and miss. Hit and miss and get stranded, hit and miss and rely on asking a stranger to help, hit and miss your appointment, hit and miss being in on time for work.
Having access to a car they can afford to run (as Motability cars are exempt from road tax) allows many disabled people to get to work and pay tax, or get to hospital appointments without using hugely costly and often unreliable ambulance transport services. It enables them the basic means to have a healthy life. It enables them to visit friends and family, take their kids to the cinema, and enjoy their lives, that are so very often hampered by ill health, immobility, depression and trauma. Without the scheme there are many disabled people who would never leave their house, some would be forced to stop working, many would find it harder to keep themselves healthy and happy, keep themselves sane. There would be more disabled people in NHS hospitals ill because they couldn’t look after themselves sufficiently, more requiring the help of mental health services, more needing assistance from an already under funded social services. More would feel isolated from the rest of society, more would feel that life is no longer worth living, more would sit at home hopelessly wanting and waiting to die. All good stuff, eh?
Horrifically there are people, national newspapers included, who are spending time, energy and column inches attacking the system from every possible direction; twisting facts and figures, manipulating data, conveniently leaving out details, essentially conning the public into thinking the system is widely and comprehensively abused. Yes there is some abuse of the system but it is not widespread in the grand scheme of things and the people responsible are more often than not people not doing their jobs properly, failing to classify people’s disabilities correctly. Sometimes it is just human error, or a lack of communication, a small percentage of the time it is outright dishonestly and deception. Although it should be noted that there are lots of people in this country, who on being mistakenly afforded something they are not legitimately entitled to, are reluctant to shout it from the roof tops and give it back. There are lots of people who dishonestly benefit from tax payers money to their own financial gain. A depressing number of these people call themselves MP’s. Yet some of those same people, with the help of irresponsible and incompetent journalists are targeting a system that not only saves lives but the country a huge amount of money and strain in other areas. There are problems with the implementation of the system and this must be addressed but the system itself is one our government and media should be fiercely protecting not aggressively attacking.
If you ever find yourself envious of a disabled person with a bigger, newer or more expensive car than you, be ashamed of yourself or willing to swap your freedom, dignity and health for it.