Which regions provide the most Blue Badges? Which local authorities are becoming more generous in granting them? And which locations are the best to visit if you need accessible private hire vehicles? To answer these questions and more, we have analysed data from the Department for Transport. This report reveals our findings.
To find the most accessible hotspots for people with disabilities in England, we calculated the regions in England with the highest number of Blue Badge holders and the biggest increases in wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) from April 2019 to March 2020. By looking at the figures surrounding accessibility, we found that the most accessible areas are:
- Brighton and Hove
The number of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) on offer in these parts of the UK has jumped up since 2019, despite being slashed in others, making it easier than ever for disabled drivers to travel in these locations.
Read on to find out which areas are home to the highest number of Blue Badge holders and where those numbers are increasing, and which areas are firmly cracking down on Blue Badge misuse.
Areas with the most and least Blue Badge holders
The map above shows the number of valid Blue Badges and the proportion of Blue Badge holders as a percentage of the population for each region of England.
The top five regions with the most Blue Badge holders are:
- North East
- East Midlands
- South West
- North West
- West Midlands.
The North East has the highest level of Blue Badge holders as a proportion of the population at 5.2%, despite having the lowest number of valid Blue Badge holders overall. The East Midlands and South West are also home to a high level of Blue Badge holders as a proportion of the population at 5.1%.
By comparison, London has just 2.7% of its population with a Blue Badge.
Further analysis revealed that Dorset has the highest proportion of Blue Badge holders within its population, and is the only area with a percentage higher than 7%. Stockton-on-Tees has the second highest at 6.7%, and North Lincolnshire has the third highest at 6.5%.
As well as having the highest number of Blue Badge holders, 28% of Dorset’s population is aged 65+, which is much higher than the average of 18% in England and Wales. Perhaps Dorset’s aging population may explain why this location is home to the highest proportion of Blue Badge holders.
Inner London has just 2.1% of its population currently holding a Blue Badge. In contrast to Dorset, London is home to a young population – the average age in London is 35.6, around five years younger than the UK overall.
Recently, campaigners in central London have called for critical changes to rules that make it difficult for disabled people to use their Blue Badges in four central London local authorities, including Westminster, City of London, Kensington and Chelsea and part of Camden.
These locations have historically been exempt from the national Blue Badge scheme due to concerns about congestion and security. This could also help to explain why such a small percentage of London’s population holds Blue Badges.
Blue Badge holders in The Isles of Scilly, Slough and Reading also make up less than 3% of the population.
Areas with the most and least automatically entitled Blue Badge holders
We also looked at the five areas with the highest and lowest percentage of Blue Badge holders who were automatically entitled to one. We calculated this by using the numbers of valid Blue Badges held without further assessment being required, and compared this with the population in the area automatically entitled to a Blue Badge.
When Blue Badges are ‘subject to further assessment’, this means that the person falls within one or more of the criteria:
- Drives a vehicle regularly, has severe disability in both arms and is unable to operate or has considerable difficulty in operating all or some types of parking meter
- Has a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking.
The top five areas with the most automatically entitled Blue Badge holders include:
- Isles of Scilly
- East Riding of Yorkshire
Overall, Thurrock has the highest percentage of automatically entitled Blue Badge holders at 75.6%. The Isles of Scilly has the second highest at 64% and East Riding of Yorkshire has the third highest at 59.6%. Windsor and Maidenhead, however, has less than one third of automatically entitled Blue Badge holders, at 31%.
Interestingly, while Kent has a high number of Blue Badge holders at 73,815, three quarters of these (45,982) are ‘subject to further assessment’.
Areas with increasing numbers of Blue Badge holders
The map above shows the ten areas in England with the biggest percentage year-on-year increase in valid Blue Badges issued between 2019 and 2020.
The top five areas with the largest percentage increase of Blue Badge holders are:
- Telford and Wrekin.
Wokingham saw the biggest percentage increase, with an increase of more than 15% more Blue Badge holders since April 2019 to March 2020. This could be due to the changes made by Wokingham Borough Council to improve blue badge application services after receiving feedback and complaints from local residents.
In terms of numerical increases, locations such as Lancashire, Birmingham, West Sussex and Worcestershire are soaring ahead. For example, each of these areas have seen an increase of more than 3,000 Blue Badges since April 2019 to March 2020.
Lancashire alone has seen a substantial increase of around 6,000 Blue Badges since April 2019 to March 2020. However, this is not surprising as Lancashire County Council’s Blue Badge service is one of the largest in the country – over 58,000 badges are in circulation and almost 30,000 applications are made each year.
Overall, increases in the number of Blue Badge holders country-wide could have also been due to major changes to eligibility made by the Department for Transport (DfT) in August 2019.
The DfT widened the Blue Badge eligibility criteria to help people with Parkinson’s, dementia, epilepsy and other ‘invisible’ disabilities. In the first three months, DfT figures show that 12,299 new badges – around 130 a day – were granted to people who cannot walk as part of a journey without considerable psychological distress or the risk of serious harm, as well as to people with a non-visible disability.
Locations cracking down on Blue Badge misuse
This map above shows the five areas in England with the biggest year-on-year (April 2019 to March 2020) increases and decreases in recorded prosecutions for misuse of the Blue Badge system.
The five locations with the biggest increases in prosecutions for Blue Badge misuse include:
- West Yorkshire
- Brighton and Hove.
Birmingham and West Yorkshire have seen particularly notable increases in prosecutions compared with the previous year. Birmingham alone shows a massive increase from 10 to 121 prosecutions for Blue Badge misuse – equating to a whopping 1,110% increase. These figures suggest that Blue Badge misuse is being reported now more than ever before in those areas.
Our findings also suggest that local governments have been taking more action against these crimes. For example, local councils in Dudley, a town just outside of Birmingham, are planning to launch a crackdown against drivers who misuse a Blue Badge after an estimated 3,000 motorists falsely used one to avoid paying for parking. Under the new rules, drivers who misuse Blue Badges could face fines up to £1,000.
By contrast, both inner and outer London have seen a substantial year-on-year decrease in prosecutions, despite still being at high levels. In fact, outer London saw 137 fewer prosecutions, down from 430 to 293, equating to -31.86%.
It’s important to note that these declines are unlikely to be related to the ongoing pandemic because the data shows figures until the end of March 2020, the month in which the first national restrictions were first put in place.
Instead the decrease could be due to the substantial fines being handed to drivers who misuse the Blue Badge in and around London. For example, in March 2021, four people in Redbridge were caught misusing the Blue Badge and were ordered to pay fines totalling over £4,000.
It’s clear that authorities across the country are taking Blue Badge misuse seriously to improve accessibility for disabled drivers. These measures highlight the importance of knowing and understanding the rules and regulations surrounding the Blue Badge scheme, especially for those who share a car with a Blue Badge holder.
Accessible hotspots for people with disabilities
The map above shows the five areas with the biggest increases and decreases in wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, as of 31 March 2020.
For people with a disability and their families or carers, holidays can provide much-needed respite from the toll of day-today life. Areas with high numbers of accessible private hire vehicles offer these people the added luxury of taking a break from being behind the wheel.
Based on these figures, we’ve found five regions topping the charts for accessible staycations, with options for disabled travellers to enjoy city breaks, countryside retreats and seaside getaways within the UK once national lockdown restrictions have been lifted.
The top five most accessible locations for disabled drivers are:
- Brighton and Hove
Nottinghamshire has seen the highest increase in accessible private hire vehicles year-on-year (April 2019 to March 2020), from 267 to 315. Brighton and Hove saw the second largest increase from 356 to 398, while Norfolk saw the third largest increase from 378 to 414.
Nottinghamshire has also taken other progressive steps to ensure inclusivity and equality throughout their disabled communities. For example, in 2019, Nottingham introduced a badge scheme for bus and tram users to help disabled passengers. Some badges were for use by the general public that read “happy to move for you” to let disabled people know they can request a seat without fear of confrontation. There were also badges that read “please offer me a seat”, which were offered to disabled people in Nottingham.
These initiatives can also help the general public to quickly understand and act accordingly to another person’s disability – something which many people wish to do but are unsure of. For example, a National Travel Survey (NTA) showed that people were less confident about identifying people with a disability in 2020 than in previous years. It also showed that the majority of people (93%) agreed that there should be special provision made on public transport to accommodate disabled people.
Adding to this, Nottinghamshire is also home to the first wheelchair-accessible nature reserve in the UK, Skylarks, making it an ideal staycation spot for disabled travellers for a myriad of reasons. Even the famous Sherwood Forest is now accessible to all thanks to well-maintained pathways and free wheelchair hire.
Boasting everything from accessible river cruises on the Nottingham Crusader to wheelchair ice skating at The National Ice Centre, the county now has 315 accessible taxis and private hire vehicles to go round, an increase of 48 (+18%) compared to 2019, as well as a plethora of wheelchair-friendly accommodations. In 2020, HomeToGo ranked Nottingham itself the 20th most wheelchair-friendly city in all of Europe.
Movements and initiatives like these highlight the area’s progressive attitude and help to explain why Nottinghamshire takes top spot in our top five most accessible locations list.
At the other end of the scale, Birmingham has seen the most substantial decrease in accessible vehicles year-on-year (April 2019 to March 2020), from 1,105 to 921 – that’s a decrease of almost 200 accessible vehicles.
It’s interesting that Birmingham has seen the largest decrease in accessible vehicles because the area also has the highest number of prosecutions for Blue Badge misuse. Birmingham also has the second lowest percentage of automatically entitled Blue Badge holders.
Despite some decreases in accessible vehicles in certain locations, many councils have introduced harsher fines and penalties against Blue Badge misuse and improved Blue Badge application services in order to help disabled communities. Based on our research, we’ve also found that many councils across the country have implemented progressive movements and initiatives to make the country more accessible to disabled drivers.
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We compiled Blue Badge scheme statistics (published January 2021) and Taxi and private hire vehicle statistics (published December 2020) into a single data set to identify locations with the highest/lowest of each metric and any correlations This involved aligning city/county data with regional data and comparing 2019 to 2020 data to reveal trends. We also used population statistics from the Office of National Statistics to calculate Blue Badge holders as a percentage of the population.