Opinion: How do we get home?

I am a physically disabled Liberal Democrat member living in London and have held a Taxicard for about 5 years now. For those who don’t know this, a Taxicard allows Londoners with mobility problems subsidised trips in black taxis within London boroughs.

On Good Friday, I asked the London Taxicard service a simple question. It was a question I have asked them several times before: How many trips do I have left?

The answer? 52.  The next question: When is that up to? Here comes the unpleasant surprise: That’s for the whole year.

Fifty-two trips a year? That’s one trip a week, I thought. That can’t be right.

That means that I can’t book a return journey using the Taxicard service- at least not unless I only use it once in two weeks.

Surely they can’t be expecting disabled people to only leave their houses once in two weeks? When I started on the scheme almost 5 years ago, I was told the trips could be used for social or medical reasons. At the time, I was given 104 trips per year.

For a start, I have weekly medical appointments. If I was to need to use the service to get to these under the current rules, how would I get home? And, only slightly less importantly, how would I ever have any sort of an independent social life if I used up all my trips on medical appointments?

Further research last night revealed that my London borough has halved Taxicard trips per year from 1st April 2012 for “members who also hold either or both a Freedom Pass or a Blue Badge.”

This discovery answered my questions. I have a Blue Badge.

However, the suggestion that a Blue Badge should entitle you to fewer Taxicard trips is madness. Blue Badges only entitle you to park within walking distance of wherever you want to go. I know there are other advantages but sadly, 24 hour access to a car is not one of them! I still can’t drive or use public transport without company. I carry my Blue Badge with me and use it in the car of whoever I happen to be with.

When I started using the Taxicard scheme it gave me a whole new and wonderful level of freedom. I could now get a cheap lift to the cinema or to a friend’s house. It significantly reduced the need for my parents to drive me around town- and for that reason it has become a valuable part of my life.

Now I am being told that just because I hold a Blue Badge I can either only leave my house independently once in two weeks or, if I choose to leave independently once a week, I still need to drag one of my parents out of the house to pick me up when the movie finishes or when my friends need me to leave their houses.

Where is the very independence that the Taxicard scheme was set up to allow? How is leaving the house once in two weeks a free, independent social life for any young person? And without these unreasonable restrictions, if we wish to keep our independence, how do we get home?

With the London Mayoral elections coming up, I even tweeted Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick about this very important issue. His response? “good scheme not brilliantly administered; not helped by LAs having differing approach to funding which creates uncertainty.” Good points, all true, but, disappointingly, no mention of how he would help. The London Liberal Democrats have not yet responded to my tweet.

I have started a campaign on Facebook: How Do We Get Home on Facebook.  Please visit it.

* Sarah Ismail is a Lib Dem member who blogs at Same Difference about disability issues big and small.

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22 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 20th Apr '12 - 11:53am

    For a start, I have weekly medical appointments. If I was to need to use the service to get to these under the current rules, how would I get home?

    Fortunately this is not an issue, because you never need to use this service to get to these.

    If you have a medical appointment for anything other than first-line contact with your GP, and you have a medical need for transportation beyond what regular public transport can provide, then the NHS patient transport service will provide it. Ask when booking an appointment and they’ll book a car or ambulance along with it, as appropriate.

    If the PTS is unavailable or you don’t qualify, but you’re on (usual list of low-income benefits), then the NHS will pay your costs. That includes paying taxi fares if you can’t use public transport.

  • I think you should be happy for what you have. Whatever people have they always seem to take it for granted and want more. What if you were living in a city outside London? There wouldn’t be taxicard or such extensive public transport systems. What about those disabled people? Do you think you should get extra trips at the expense of their mobilityallowance.

    There’s only a certain amount of money to go round. We are working our way out of a recession/public deficit and everything has to be paid for somehow. Taxicards don’t come out of thin air. I can’t make any social trips at all now because the price of food and petrol has gone up and my earnings have gone down. All I can afford to pay for is food and housing. Extra money to pay for more taxicards has to come from taxes from people like me. Do you think I should be taxed more so I can’t afford to pay for food so you can have more social trips?

    As Tommy says feel lucky for what you have.

  • @George

    Sorry George this response is so out of line with reality I am flabbergasted. Tommy was simply pointing out that in most of the rest of the country people can only dream of the benefits that those in London take for granted. Nowhere did he even imply that “it could be worse so therefore you have no right to complain”. Putting such sorts of arguments forward discredits the good point we all need to make that there is still a long way to go before we really can get to being truly disabled friendly.

    In a rural area such as mine, disability is a massive problem, exacerbated by scarcity and all the related problems faced by charities and local authorities. You should campaign for both, not decry someone who is calling for the most disadvantaged to be remembered.
    disadvantaged to be remembered.

  • David Evans………I think ‘Tommy’s’ use of language was ill considered.

    George Potter…..I think your mention of ‘rape’ was intemperate.

  • George PotterApr 20 – 7:05 pm……………@jason……………, I fail to see what your problem is………………

    You complained about the emotive language of ‘Tommy’ and then went ‘way over the top’………(So I’d assume you’d tell rape victims that they should “honestly feel quite likely” that at least they’re not starving? Not that I’m saying that rape and the problems with Taxicards are on the same level of awfulness)………….

    If you don’t believe that, even obliquely, accusing ‘Tommy’ of such insensitivity was wrong, then my problem is your choice of analogy.

    However, as I seem to have offended both you and ‘Tommy’ I have probably got things about right!

  • I’m not disabled but I would dread having to navigate the trains/tube/buses if I was.
    , Even those stations that supposedly have disabled access, it’s often a long roundabout way to use them and often needs assistance from staff (of which there generally will be none late at night, or difficult to find in rush hours). As an example of what George pointed out, the gap between the train and the platform when I change train at Clapham Junction is extremely large, a problem for old people and children (as in a person could fall in full through it: almost 1 foot up and 1 foot wide!).
    and the transport system is at times (most of teh time in fact) VERY crowded (think sardines in a tin, literally), which if you have mobility problems (or sight problems) will make it even more difficult to navigate.

    the other thing is that because the public transport is so good for able people, many don’t have cars, unlike elsewhere where you basically have to have one. it’s especially true with young people: of my friends (ages 25-45), 90%, including me, don’t have cars.

    So if she wants to go visit friends, they can’t simply come pick her up or drive her back.

    oh and taxis are much cheaper in the country!

  • Is the taxicard in addition to the £54.05 that I assume you are receiving as the mobility component of disability living allowance? (I assume you are eligible, but am not sure if you have to give up the DLA MC to get the taxi card)

    I would be interested to know how much the taxi card costs, and whether recipients value it at more than a cash benefit of the same value. As a liberal I generally prefer to see people being given cash, so that they can choose how to use it for themselves.

    Some of the comments on this thread, in all directions, seem to be completely out of order. Full marks to Sarah for engaging with the thread.

  • I wonder if whether we should be providing a level of incentive/reward to disabled members of socially. So that transport schemes that Sarah talks about provide a minimum level of mobility, however for those who show that they are using such schemes to contribution society (I’ll leave what that actually may mean open to discussion) should perhaps qualify for additional support. Ie. Sit at home and get a basic level of benefit, actively engage with society and get a higher level of benefit.

    Yes I’m ignoring funding etc. etc., at this point I’m only interested in whether the principle is good or not and whether people could easily substantiate/verify their social engagement.

  • I have to agree with the main thrust of George’s comments above. The argument should not be that because people in London receive a greater benefit than others then they should be happy with their lot. Instead the argument should be whether what is given is sufficient.

    It’s fine if you want to argue that what is given is excessive if that’s what you think, but look at the needs of the people and what support they receive rather than at what others get – it shouldn’t be a race to the bottom.

    I also agree with Tim, my personal preference is in general for people to use a benefit how they think it would best improve their lives rather than how the government dictates, however I could see that this specific benefit would be aimed at trying to encourage participation in society so in general I see this as a good thing.

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