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WHEELS – a medieval instrument of torture or a vehicle for personal mobility. title
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I’m still fuming at an outrageous front page article recently run by The Mail on Sunday suggesting parents were being given, through the Motability scheme, ‘free’ BMW’s, courtesy of the ‘taxpayer’, because their ‘naughty’ children had been awarded Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Richard Littlejohn, in The Daily Mail, then followed up with further scurrilous observations about the state financing, and personal spending, of people with disabilities.

Hazard lights

The original article was riddled with such blatant error that, this week, the Mail, in their new corrections column, had to admit their own misrepresentation and manipulation of much of the factual elements of the story and, guess what?

  1. Naughty children’ were ADHD sufferers, so, a bit more than just ‘naughty’ maybe?
  2. ADHD sufferers turned out to be just a tiny % of the 3,200 people they cited as receiving ‘free’ cars.
  3. The 3,200 figure was itself a tiny % of the half a million (<1% of the population] who receive Motability vehicles and represented the total number of those receiving DLA for all kinds of ‘behavioural disorders’ and,
  4. no one knew how many of these received higher rate of the mobility element of DLA – the ONLY category eligible for a Motability car because they have SEVERE mobility problems.
  5. The cars are not ‘free’ as recipients have to sacrifice the mobility element of their DLA for as long as they have the car and pay a substantial up-front payment for expensive cars that they never, in fact, own. The residual resale value at the end of the lease period goes to Motability who also - non-negotiably - set the terms and length of the lease at either 3 or 5 (for WAVs) years, irrespective of mileage or wear and tear.

At no point did the Mail attempt to provide any balance in their reporting by recognizing a few other pertinent facts, such as:

  • Adapted vehicles cost way more than unadapted vehicles both to buy and maintain. As a rule of thumb, adaptation to carry a wheelchair costs about £10-20k on top of the 'normal' retail price.
  • Insurance for wheelchair adapted vehicles is hard to get and typically costs about 50% more per annum too.
  • Many people with severe disabilities have NO recourse to the type of financing that other people do i.e. loans and employment income. For them, Motability is the only way to access private transport.
  • Many severely disabled people cannot use public transport because there is no universal access and because they are sick and in pain which makes travelling difficult, dangerous or maybe, both.
  • If an adapted vehicle breaks down, there is NO hopping onto other transport, a cab or a ride with a rescue vehicle for most of us and we cannot easily shop about for routine maintenance and service requirements either.
  • The sacrifice of the mobility element of DLA is one too far for many – only 30% of those eligible take up the Motability option. Those who do not – most in the lowest percentile of household income – are housebound, dependent on others for help or using ambulances, Dial-A-Ride and taxis for every trip outside their home. Ever wondered why you don’t see many wheelchair users about?
  • The % of high value vehicles on Motability is relatively small because of the substantial - privately financed - down payment required.
  • Those who do take up the more expensive car options are the tiny % of us with access to private income. We pay tax but are no less disabled, or less subject to the high living costs of disability as a result of having income nor are we more able to afford the additional money needed for adaptation.
  • If those with disabilities earn, or, frankly, even if not, and we have capacity, why are we less entitled than those without disabilities to assess and spend our income how we wish? If I want a bloody BMW and I am able to afford it, what right have the government to ban me just because I get a small contribution (or tax rebate!) towards the cost of my car's adaptation?

Surely blame for abuses within the system lies with those who administer it not those who need it so desperately - why is that never mentioned in hyperbolic headlines? Instead, the government/media choose to punish/castigate the huge majority of those doing the right thing and, again, why?

Oh, ok, I know, it’s the economy, stupid, and we need to make CUTS! But, really, this is where we focus our efforts? I wish the Mail, media and government would introduce some balance on disability issues instead of spreading disgraceful lies, willful distortions of truth and making wildly negative disablist suppositions that are taken up and propagated by the uninformed as if based on absolute fact. But, hey, I won't hold my breath waiting for pretty pink pigs to fly by any time soon!

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