Carers in uproar after free parking revoked

One carer said the change helped force her to leave the job she ‘fell in love with’
By Victoria Munro

Carers leafleting and speaking to residents in Walthamstow (credit: CASWO)
Carers leafleting and speaking to residents in Walthamstow (credit: CASWO)

The end of free parking introduced during the pandemic has left carers struggling to see enough people each day or stay in the job.

In March 2020, less than two months after the idea was dramatically rejected at a full council meeting, Waltham Forest Council began issuing free parking permits for carers, which lasted well into last year.

However, following the decision to end the free permits, Walthamstow 26-year-old Stella Noakes, who became a carer during the pandemic, told the Echo she found she “could not afford to stay” in the job.

She kicked off a campaign among local carers, supported by Care and Support Workers Organise (CASWO), to pressure the council to reintroduce permits, arguing the change will ultimately hurt vulnerable residents.

She said: “The council’s reasons [for ending the permits] were that carers should be getting the bus or walking and that they can’t afford to provide them anymore.

“But I was travelling 50 minutes by car between each client some days. If you are expected to get the bus or walk, you are going to spend half the day travelling, which means more clients have their calls cancelled.

“At the end of day, it’s the clients that will be affected if their calls are getting cancelled, that’s when accidents happen. Carers are there for a reason, to keep people out of hospital.

“If they want people to walk, they need to have a system where there’s not four or five companies and carers are sent locally. The council is doing this 15-minute neighbourhood thing, which is great, let’s do that with care.”

Stella is now training to become a paramedic but feels “guilty about leaving” care work, a job she only intended to do for two months but stayed in for two years after she “fell in love with it”.

She added: “Waltham Forest doing this is a real kick in the teeth for care workers. Providing parking permits is such a simple thing but it would have a huge impact for our clients and the community.

“There’s no consideration or respect for what care workers have done, especially during the pandemic. We were having clients thrown out of hospital to clear beds and we were there to look after them and make sure they were safe at home.”

Billie Cooper, from CASWO, told the Echo the group hopes to use a potential win in Waltham Forest to “push for similar things in other boroughs” but noted some London councils “have found ways of ensuring the costs of parking are not pushed onto care workers”, citing free parking in designated zones offered by Barnet, Greenwich and Merton and a £10 annual permit in Newham.

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By contrast, she said the essential user permit offered by Waltham Forest, which is not available to workers hired by third-party providers like Stella was, costs £75 a month or as much as £600 a year on an annual basis.

The idea to offer free parking was suggested at a full council meeting in January 2020 by Conservative councillor Catherine Saumarez, who said carers “resign themselves to getting parking tickets”.

She told councillors: “Walthamstow Employment and Nursing Agency was forced to spend more than £4,500 last year on parking permits. We are basically clawing back some of our providers’ very slim profits.

“That’s not including the cost of fines when a visit took longer than an hour, which it often does. The impact of a £65 parking ticket on a minimum wage worker is profound and all our providers said the inability for carers to park affects their ability to recruit.”

At the time, Cllr Loakes responded that “there is not another borough that can match the offer we give” to carers, adding: “If we are serious about the climate emergency, then we have to change the way that we do things.”

He said the borough should aspire to the “benchmark” of Denmark and Holland, where carers use low-emission vehicles, carsharing and bicycles to reach clients, a suggestion one carer dismissed as “impossible”.

Speaking anonymously after the meeting, the 39-year-old Walthamstow Employment and Nursing Agency carer said: “I would want him to come with me and do a shift on a bicycle. 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.”

Responding to the new campaign, Cllr Loakes told the Echo the council provided more than 2,500 free permits during the pandemic, adding: “We know how important their hard work was supporting the community throughout Covid-19, and we join residents in expressing our gratitude.

“Companies should be factoring in costs for staff parking when bidding for care contracts rather than passing them on to their employees, as they will have been aware of the situation when presenting their tenders.

“We will carefully consider and respond to the points that have been raised with us recently by care staff. However, from our benchmarking we know that the range of permit options for carers in Waltham Forest far exceeds that of most other London boroughs, making us already one of the most generous.”

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