Tue 2 Jan ‘18
‘It seems odd for the Daily Mirror to argue for such a subsidy rather than, for example, better public transport to hospitals, or safe cycling and walking routes.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian
The Daily Mirror has an illustrious history of campaigning, most recently helping to persuade ministers to enact an opt-out system for organ donation in England, as already existed in Scotland and Wales. But I’m afraid their latest crusade is a mistake.
Backed by, among others, trade unions and Jeremy Corbyn – for whom it is official Labour policy – the paper seeks the abolition of all parking charges at NHS hospitals in England, for patients, visitors and staff.
It is generally popular, and billed as an obvious and fair reform, which would benefit those most in need. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Free parking is fundamentally regressive, a subsidy to people who tend to be richer than average
The first point to stress is that I’m not arguing against reforms to the way hospital parking is currently administered and charged. As is regularly documented, too many systems are unwieldy and over-complex, with many only permitting cash payments, or forcing visitors to pay in advance when they might have little idea how long they will stay.
Charges can sometimes also seem unreasonably high, and there could be an argument for imposing a cap, or perhaps systems whereby regular visitors such as relatives of long-term patients could avoid the fees racking up.
But opening up all NHS hospital car parks to free parking at any time, for any duration, to anyone who works there or has reason to visit? That’s a different matter altogether.
The first error is that it won’t necessarily make parking any easier, just hard in a different way. There are something close to 600,000 staff at hospitals in England, and about 40,000 inpatient admissions a day. That’s a lot of people seeking a free resource.