Motability Scheme under threat

As you may be aware, The Daily Mail (5th February and 18th February) published articles accusing Motability of “hoarding £2.4 billion and paying its boss £1.7 million” here’s a link to the article http://dailym.ai/2Cp2jUF and http://dailym.ai/2CpQbT2. Both Motability and Motability Operations have now published letters setting out clarifications of some of the accusations made in the debate, and these are on their websites http://bit.ly/2HBmYZv
 
Following this coverage, a parliamentary select committee initiated by Esther McVey, formerly the Minister for Disabled People and now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is to undertake an “investigation”.  Frank Field MP will chair the committee.
 

I’d like to spend a moment or two remembering the Motability journey if you’ll pardon the pun. I remember the days of the infamous three-wheeled invalid carriage and the feeling of being treated like a second-class citizen regarding personal transport, travel and independence.  Buses, trains and taxis were mostly inaccessible, and many severely disabled people relied on the goodwill of others to get around.

Picture of a Tippen Delta 2 invalid carriage
Tippen Delta 2 1962
 
The Motability Scheme began back in 1977, and it made a difference, but for a long time, it wasn’t great. Back then it felt like the staff were doing you a favour by allowing you to lease a car, rather than recognising that you chose to hand over your Mobility allowance to get it. The Scheme was bureaucratic and complicated, if, for example, you scratched your car while loading your wheelchair, you were penalised. It seemed back then that the focus was on the car rather than the disabled person.
 
Since his appointment over ten years ago, the current CEO of Motability Operations, Mike Betts, and his team have entirely transformed the organisation, and as a result, the Scheme has seen a massive increase in its disabled customers. Motability Operations is now a commercial organisation with a real understanding of the needs of disabled people. It has a supportive infrastructure and an enlightened business model. This approach has resulted in a better deal for its 600,000 disabled customers, with excellent customer service that’s available to all. The Daily Mail has chosen to mislead and confuse these facts in its story quite deliberately.
 
I should declare an interest at this point. I have been a long-time supporter of the Motability Scheme, and I’m a satisfied customer.
 
It wouldn’t be overdramatic to say that some of these recent accusations amount to an attack on the Scheme, and the way it is run.  We need to ensure that everyone is made aware of the facts and that we demonstrate our support for the values of the Scheme, personal, choice, independence, control and outstanding customer service.

Nothing about us without us or have you forgotten?

Is it just me or is something untoward going on concerning disability and social inclusion? Let me explain.

The Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt recently appointed 11 sector champions who are supposed to promote the importance of disability inclusion across the retail, music, leisure, tourism, hotels, media, advertising, airports, buses, banking and gaming sectors.

The aim of this initiative is to drive improvements in the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in each area, helping to highlight best practice and demonstrate to other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

So what’s wrong with that I hear you say? A couple of things.

The Minister asked the DWP and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) to find suitably qualified or experienced people. The ‘advertisement’ said that they were looking for “champions who are ambitious, passionate and dynamic, with strong networks and the ability to reach out to a wide range of organisations and create momentum for change”. Anything missing? Well Yes! No mention of the word disability let alone disability-related experience. Presumably disabled people aren’t “ambitious, passionate or dynamic”. To make matters worse there is no mention of the appointed sector champions having any ‘power’, or resources so we must assume that as with so many previous initiatives this one will also disappear. Who remembers John Major’s Citizen’s Charter, Anne McGuire’s Equality 2025 Committee and most recently David Cameron’s Big Society?

Disabled people have campaigned for years to be included but on their own terms. The idea that non-disabled people should champion our cause smacks of the old days when patronisation and charity were commonplace. Does no one in the Minister’s office or the ODI remember the slogans ‘Nothing about us without us’ and “Rights, not Charity”? The fact that some of the appointed champions are disabled people is more by accident than design?

I’m sure the Minister is well intentioned but why is the DWP involved in a customer focussed initiative? Where is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIZ)? They are responsible for “making sure consumer law is fair for both consumers and businesses, and that consumers know their rights and can use them effectively.”

Disabled customers already have some protection through legislation which is designed to protect them from disability discrimination. I would urge the Minister to consult with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, BIZ and the ODI to explore ways of supporting and encouraging disabled people to assert their legal rights as consumers.

Finally, if the Minister wants to make a real difference, she will ensure that Disabled People’s User Led Organisations have the necessary resources to expose poor practice and discrimination and where necessary take appropriate action against the perpetrators.

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Here are some other disability-related stories which might be of interest.

Minister appoints Sector Champions http://bit.ly/2mhXCaq

EHRC puts 18 accessibility questions to Premier League Clubs http://bit.ly/2mi674Y

Peer pressure sees minister finally announce date for taxi access laws http://bit.ly/2midYj5

No chance of halving employment gap without tackling independent living, says DPO http://bit.ly/2mi3uQN