This week, Government Health Minister Edward Argar told reporters that the Government is drawing up plans to reinstate parking fees for staff and visitors of hospitals. This announcement comes after fees were waived back in March to support key hospital staff and to encourage patients and staff to forego public transport. Many hoped that this measure would become permanent, and the Government has attracted criticism for this announcement despite the health minister noting that no change has yet been made and that the decision will depend on local authorities and independent providers.
Our research finds that an overwhelmingly majority of 79% agree that NHS staff, patients and families of patients should not have to pay parking charges at hospitals, with just 8% of respondents disagreeing. This support for hospital workers and visitors is even more significant given that a majority of 55% indicated their support was ‘strong.’
Interestingly, when Argar’s comments and the rationale he offered were presented to participants, responses appeared to become more sympathetic to the Government’s position. Although a plurality of 46% disapproved of Argar’s claim that support from local authorities and independent providers cannot continue indefinitely, a significant minority of 31% approved of this announcement.
One possible explanation for this marked increase in the proportion who back the Government’s position might be that some respondents believe parking should not be charged while also recognizing that implementing such a change is not easy. Furthermore, some may prefer that there be alternative sources to fund continued free parking instead of local authorities and independent providers. These might include proposing higher taxes, more efficient use of taxes, redirecting Government expenditure away from other services, or other strategies.
NHS employees were overwhelmingly the group believed to be most deserving of having their parking charges at hospitals waived, with staff, doctors and nurses receiving support from around 70% of respondents. Patients were the only group of visitors deemed to be worthy of free parking by more than half of respondents, while their friends and families should continue to pay, according to respondents. This continued support for NHS workers comes off the back of our earlier poll which demonstrated public backing for a rise in their wages along with widespread displays of solidarity during the lockdown period.
While there is generally more support among elderly people than young people, the most interesting demographic finding is that 2019 Conservative and Labour voters are virtually as likely to support free parking as each other. The question on whether friends of patients should have to pay for parking was the only one in the entire poll in which the disparity of answers between voters of each party was greater than three per cent. This broad agreement has provided an opportunity for Keir Starmer to gain cross-party support in his opposing stance. During Prime Ministers Questions this week, the Labour Leader took Boris Johnson to task on this issue. Although the Government has pledged to make good on their 2019 manifesto promise to provide permanent free parking for night-shift workers, disabled patients and parents of ill children staying overnight, there is little doubt that Argar’s announcement this week has been met with broad disapproval.