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Calls for free parking for carers were rejected last night on the grounds that driving should not be encouraged in a climate emergency.
Waltham Forest Council’s Essential User Parking scheme allows health workers to purchase annual permits for £158 to £485 depending on car type, although they still risk a ticket if they stay an hour without renewing.
Conservative councillor Catherine Saumarez told a meeting of the full council on Thursday (January 30) carers currently “resign themselves to getting parking tickets” due to difficulties parking.
On the other hand, Labour deputy leader Cllr Clyde Loakes insisted the council offers “the most generous” permit scheme in London and needs to limit driving due to the climate emergency.
Cllr Saumarez said: “Walthamstow Employment and Nursing Agency was forced to spend more than £4,500 last year on parking permits, not including the cost of parking tickets when their visit took longer than an hour, which it often does.”
Another agency told the Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee they spent “no less than £300 a month, often more” paying off their carer’s “unavoidable tickets”.
“We are basically clawing back in tax some of our providers’ very slim profits,” she said, “This sits uncomfortably with me given the council is currently enjoying a half a million pound surplus gained through parking charges and CPZ charges.
“The impact of a £65 parking ticket on a minimum wage worker is profound. All our providers said the inability for carers to park while caring for clients affects their ability to recruit.”
She added that, while she was aware of the current EUP scheme, she felt it was a “galling omission” there was not a “level offer” for carers from third-party providers.
Cllr Emma Best (Con, Endlebury) said the council’s leadership “have decided anyone with a vehicle should be punished, vulnerable or not”, accusing them of “blind rage” against drivers.
Cllr Loakes (Lab, Leytonstone) said the council must strive in everything they do to “save the planet, as well as supporting the most vulnerable”.
He said: “There is not another borough that can match the offer we give, not just to those who are employed day in and day out to support our most vulnerable and isolated but also to the other network that is so important to those people, family and friends.
“However, I cannot ignore the fact that across all our areas of operation in this council, if we are serious about the climate emergency, then we have to change the way that we do things.”
He added the council should aspire to the “benchmark” of Denmark and Holland, where carers use low-emission vehicles, carsharing, cargo bikes and bicycles to reach clients.
Cllr Keith Rayner (Lab, Cann Hall) pointed out it was only due to Thatcher policies that local authorities were even forced to rely on third-party providers, while Cllr Anna Mbachu (Lab and Co-op, Grove Green), herself an NHS worker, said she supported Labour’s position.
The council voted to amend Cllr Saumarez’s suggestion of a new permit system with Cllr Loakes’ commitment to increase access to the council’s low-emission vehicles, which require cheaper permits under the current scheme.
The amendment also limited the scheme to workers spending at least half their time driving, which Cllr Loakes said would prevent the offer being abused and which Cllr Best insisted would worsen working conditions.
A 39-year-old Walthamstow Employment and Nursing Agency carer, who chose to remain anonymous, said after the meeting she was disappointed with the result.
Having worked in care for around four and a half years, she said it was “impossible to go around by bike”, as Cllr Loakes suggested, and that public transport could be unreliable.
“I would want him to come with me and do a shift on a bicycle,” she said, “Sometimes I work the whole area – Woodford, Walthamstow and Chingford – with only 15-20 minutes between shifts.
“We have the opportunity to buy a whole-year ticket but it’s about £320. It would be much much better (to have the specific permit), then I could fully concentrate on the client and not be looking outside to see if anyone is coming.”