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Saturday, 20 February 2021

Open letter to Andrew Percy MP

Dear Andrew Percy

You may or may not remember me contacting you the night before the last general election. I was really undecided about who to vote for. I had seen how active you are in our local community and the immense effort that you put into addressing issues that affect your constituents. However, I have only ever voted labour so this would be my first conservative vote, going against much of what I believe in. The main issues for me, at the time were Brexit on one hand, and the lack of value that many disabled people feel from government, on the other.

You persuaded me that disabled people do matter to you and to test you in this, if you were successful. You were. Congratulations! 

I began drafting a letter in early 2019 and first the Snaith/Cowick floods happened and then Covid. So I figured you might appreciate some time to deal with those first. Now though, in the third lockdown, some of the issues I would like to raise with you, and ask for your help with, have become even more urgent.

National issues

My spinal injury (cauda equina syndrome) happened in 2012, while we were living in Finland. We returned to the UK in 2013, mainly because the UK offers better rights for disabled people who want to work. On returning, I was not eligible to apply for disability benefits until we had been living here for two years. So in 2015, I started receiving PIP and have nothing else to compare this to. 

I have seen some of the negative press around PIP but the press are often negative about many things, so I wanted to see for myself and form my own opinions about it. 

For now, I will leave the assessment process out of this, as I understand that there will never be a successful way of both giving disabled people what they need and, at the same time, completely eliminating fraud. My issue is with the constant need to be reassessed every three years. My condition is permanent and unlikely to ever improve. I am on the highest rate of both daily living and mobility. This is the only state support I have asked for or receive, and really, it is more about getting the support I need to equalise my living costs so that I can continue to work and contribute as much as possible to society.

Being reassessed every three years has implications way beyond the obvious. Yes, I have to take time to fill in the long forms and then take time off work to attend assessments, sometimes deal with appeals and so on. However, I then have to deal with the blue badge issue. East Riding Council now only issue the blue badge until the PIP end date. On the surface, this seems reasonable. However, PIP reassessments rarely occur on time and although payments continue to cover the months of delays, my blue badge becomes out of date. By the time I can reapply, each blue badge has about two and a half years on it, yet still costs me £10 each time. 

I recently received a letter explaining that due to Covid, PIP reassessments will be delayed by almost a year. That is a long time to be without my blue badge! I am very active and don't need to park right next to the entrance. What I need is the wide space to unload my wheelchair and assistance dog. Without these, I can't get out by car.

I would like your support in two ways:

  1. Please would you ask the government to reconsider PIP assessments for permanent conditions. Being reassessed every three years must surely cost the government more than the tiny risk that I receive a miraculous healing and fail to disclose it.
  2. Work with government and/or the local council to ensure that disabled people are not left without their blue badge or required to pay repeatedly for a new one because of delays in the PIP system.

Local issues

Although I live in Goole, I am not from this area. Goole has a lot going for it for a wheelchair user, not least, the fact that it is largely flat! In theory, as a healthy, active wheelchair user, able to self propel long distances, in excess of 5km at a time, it should be possible for me to visit the town centre and supermarkets (approximately 1 mile away) without taking my car. This is what we have all been encouraged to do, in order to help reduce our carbon footprint and help meet environmental targets. 

I have contacted the council numerous times to report issues with paving, especially on Marshfield Road, where the quality of the paving for a long time now, has been so poor that I can only now access it with my mountain trike (a specialised wheelchair, designed for off road hiking). Using my regular chair simply causes too much pain and there is too much risk of being thrown out of my chair when one of the front casters catches in a pothole. 

On my own estate, we have flagged paving and partly due to the works that KCOM have recently completed, but also prior to this, many of the flags are broken and dislodged such that it is not very easy to propel on it. I literally have to watch the ground in front of me the whole time, so I can pull wheelies over raised flags or swerve to avoid the worst areas. I have come out of my chair a couple of times, badly hurting my arm and shoulder once. Following this, the council investigated and did some repairs but left all but the worst damage as it was.

I would like to escalate this now, through you, and ask that the pavements in the area are improved and made safe for both wheelchair users and the many elderly people that use walkers, sticks and other mobility aids.

I'm sitting in my mountain trike, with my hands up and out in despair. I can't get out of the nature reserve here because the gates are too narrow.
A second local issue, and one that I understand the root of, is the erecting of barriers to prevent antisocial behaviour in our green spaces. These seem to be used at access points to the riverbank, nature reserve, canals... They do indeed prevent motor bikes causing chaos, but they also prevent me from accessing places where I should be able to exercise and walk my assistance dog (or sometimes, as in the photo, from getting out).

I am aware that some money has been allocated from various sources and one of the anticipated improvements is around accessibility. I would ask that when implementing these, you advise the relevant groups to consult with disabled people, rather than guessing or assuming what our needs are. It is vital that this happens at the planning phase, rather than as an afterthought. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the work you do in our town and in anticipation of any help you will be able to offer on the issues I am facing.

Yours faithfully