Motorists with hidden disabilities, such as autism and dementia, could soon be eligible for a blue badge following a public consultation.
The measures, if enacted, “would herald the most significant changes since the blue badge was introduced in 1970” according to the Department for Transport, creating “parity” between mental and physical health – a key Conservative party manifesto commitment.
There are currently around 2.4 million blue badge permits in England which allow holders to park for free on streets with parking meters, in dedicated blue badge spaces and on single or double yellow lines for up to three hours.
READ NEXT: What is autism?
Some benefits – such as the High Rate Disability Living Allowance and the War Pensioner’s Mobility Supplement – provide automatic eligibility for a blue badge. Other hidden conditions however, such as autism, dementia and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), “are not in themselves a qualification for a badge” unless the person applying for one is “unable to walk» or has «very considerable difficulty in walking, in addition to their condition.”
See related Smart motorways that beam real-time traffic news to your car are coming to the UK The UK government just gave electric cars a £40m boost UK aims to 'phase out' new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 Zapping parts of the brain linked to autism could help reverse the symptoms
The consultation document highlights that while some local authorities issue badges to people with non-physical disabilities, others are “unwilling to issue a badge if the condition does not manifest itself physically.”
In light of this, the consultation will examine the wording of the phrase “very considerable difficulty in walking” to determine if mental disabilities should also allow people to qualify under that clause, or whether the clause itself should be rewritten.
Announcing the consultation, Transport Minister Jesse Norman said: “We want to try to extend this to people with invisible disabilities, so they can enjoy the freedom to get out and about.”
The plans were welcomed by Sarah Lambert, head of policy at the National Autistic Society, who said: “There are an estimated 700,000 autistic people in the UK and whilst every person on the autism spectrum is different, for some, not being able to park in a predictable place close to a destination can cause a great deal of anxiety and put their safety at risk.”
Some concerns remain about blue badges being misused, however. The consultation document highlights there is a “significant amount of badge misuse”. Back in 2016, the Department for Transport revealed an 84% surge in prosecutions for the offence – mostly concerning people using someone else’s badge.