The Blue Badge scheme, which offers accessible parking for people who find travel difficult, is being extended to cover Britons with “invisible” health problems in the “biggest overhaul to the system” in 40 years.
Until now, only physically disabled people were eligible for the scheme due to the barriers they face taking public transport or walking longer distances.
The Government has now recognised that people with mental health problems often struggle with these issues too, in a move being applauded as an “important step in the right direction”.
From early next year people with disabilities including autism and mental health conditions will be able to apply for a Blue Badge.
Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, said Sunday’s announcement shows “greater recognition of the many barriers faced by some people with mental health problems when it comes to leaving the house and making journeys”.
Nash noted that the decision comes less than a year after a legal case found that many people with mental health problems lose out on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit due to a “discriminatory assessment process”.
“Today’s announcement should mean that going forward, many more people with mental health problems will be able to more easily do the things lots of us take for granted – whether that’s buying groceries, going to doctor appointments or maintaining relationships with friends and family who provide vital social support,” she said.
Transport Minister Jesse Norman said blue badges are a “lifeline” for the disabled” and by extending the scheme those with hidden disabilities will now be able to “enjoy the freedoms that many of us take for granted”.
The new criteria will extend eligibility to people who:
- Cannot undertake a journey without there being a risk of serious harm to their health or safety or that of any other person (such as young children with autism)
- Cannot undertake a journey without it causing them very considerable psychological distress; or have very considerable difficulty when walking (both the physical act and experience of walking)
The Department for Transport said while people with non-physical disabilities are not currently excluded from receiving a Blue Badge, “the current rules are open to interpretation”.
The new criteria, it said, will “give clear and consistent guidelines on Blue Badge eligibility for the whole of England”.
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton said it’s “absolutely right” that disabled people should be able to go about their daily life without “worrying about how they will get from one place to another”.
“We’re taking an important step forward in ensuring people with hidden disabilities get the support they need to live independently,” she said.
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said the change will make a “massive difference to the lives” of many of the 600,000 autistic people in England, and their families.
“Just leaving the house is a challenge for many autistic people, involving detailed preparation – and sometimes overwhelming anxiety about plans going wrong,” she explained.
“And some autistic people might not be aware of the dangers of the road or become overwhelmed by busy or loud environments. The possibility of not being able to find a parking space near where you’re going can mean you can’t contemplate leaving the house at all.”
Harris said the National Autistic Society has been highlighting problems with the current rules for several years and are “thrilled” the government has finally “listened to the concerns of autistic people and their families, taking into account their needs for certainty and safety”.
The Department for Transport will now work with stakeholders to develop new guidance to help them administer the Blue Badge scheme when the changes come into force.
The eligibility change follows an eight-week consultation - that received more than 6,000 responses - and is part of the government’s drive for “greater parity between physical and mental health conditions”.
The government recently set out its plans to improve accessibility across all modes of transport in the Inclusive Transport Strategy which launched on 25 July 2018. The strategy aims to make the UK’s transport network fully inclusive by 2030: