Transport Minister Norman Baker met Cannock Chase MP Aidan Burley and representatives of Staffordshire-based children’s disability charity Newlife Foundation earlier today (Thursday) to discuss possible changes to the law which could potentially benefit thousands of vulnerable children across the UK.
Earlier this year, Mr Baker responded positively to a Newlife campaign to increase the weight limit of Class Two wheelchairs – from 113kgs to 150kgs – making some of the most hi-tech mobility aids legally available to the under-14s for the first time.
This latest meeting, arranged by the Cannock Chase MP, follows on from his 10-Minute Rule Motion in the House of Commons in March, calling for wider-reaching changes. The motion received cross-party support; however it now relies on being taken up by the Government to progress.
Mr Burley has been a staunch supporter of the on-going Newlife campaign, which calls for a further change to the Road Traffic Act 1988 to increase the weight limit for Class Three wheelchairs to 200kgs, from 150kgs, and remove the existing minimum age restriction of 14.
Following the meeting at the Department for Transport, Newlife co-founder and CEO Sheila Brown, OBE, said: “We are delighted that the Minister agreed to meet us to discuss what we consider to be an outdated law that is hampering the comfort, development and opportunities of thousands of young people across theUK.
“We look forward to working with the officials who are considering a more sophisticated approach to wheelchair use and classification. It is good to know that Newlife’s campaign is now fully on the top table and that, together with the Department for Transport, we can continue to improve the lives of severely disabled children.”
When Mr Burley introduced his 10-Minute Rule Motion, supporting the Newlife campaign, he paid tribute to the charity for its nurse services, provision of more than £7million of essential disability equipment and £12million funding of groundbreaking medical research. He highlighted how charities like Newlife are restricted from providing the most advanced equipment by the Road Traffic Act and the belief that statutory providers such as primary care trusts use the law to avoid supplying the costly equipment, despite properly assessed needs.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: “I am not clear why the Department stopped short of amending provisions for Class Three wheelchairs, and only increased the weight of Class Two to match that of Class Three. Such an approach is illogical. The weight restrictions were devised more than 20 years ago, when wheelchairs were still called ‘invalid carriages’ and were more primitive compared to the designs available today. Modern designs provide for a ‘sit to stand or lie’ facility and have longer battery life. They also provide for wider, more robust tyres that allow users to travel on difficult, uneven terrain. That is why they are heavier; they can do more things and help disabled people more. Nowadays it is not the equipment that is holding people back, but the outdated legislation.”
After today’s meeting, Mr Burley said: “I was reassured by the Minister that these issues are being looked at closely and that he has taken into consideration the arbitrary limits of weight and age. It is about time these issues were resolved and I was grateful for the opportunity to press the Minister on Newlife’s campaign.”
Sheila Brown added: “Aidan has moved forward the fight to ensure disabled children are given the best chance of getting the right equipment. We are very grateful for his commitment and fortunate to have engaged his support on this important issue.”