Liisa Pakosta: The car tax must not be levied on the disabled

Liisa Pakosta.
Liisa Pakosta. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

International law sets as a goal the protection of the basic rights of people with disabilities, and not to create obstacles and barriers to the mobility for people with special needs. For this reason, the planned car tax in Estonia cannot be imposed without considering the rights of people with disabilities, as well as their family members, writes Eesti 200 MP Liisa Pakosta.

Imagine a situation where you legs were taxed. You would wake up, step out of bed and then bang, you'd be hit with a tax. Even if you wanted, you couldn't move around without legs, not at least without the assistance of an aid designed for a person with mobility impairments. 

For a disabled person, a wheelchair or an adapted car represent those legs with which they move around. This is the precise reason why car taxes in other countries have been differentiated with regard to people with disabilities, ranging from a complete exemption, to a reduced proportion of the tax in the case of minor disabilities.

When developing the planned car tax, the Ministry of Finance took as a basis the goal of making it as simple as possible and with as few exceptions as possible. 

Simplicity, however, must never be a justification for not considering the rights of people with special needs. Unfortunately, a truly caring society is never a simple one, nor is it a society with the simplest tax system worldwide, because exceptions need making at all times. 

Were everything the same for everyone, then people with differing needs would be helplessly excluded from society. There are also certainly tax incentives in Estonia that can foster the participation of people with special needs in the life of society.

In an Estonian context, we could talk about a simple car tax for the healthy residents of Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu and Narva, those without special needs. In these larger cities of ours, the public transport is not great, but it is still usable to the extent that a person in good health will not be left out of social life if they don't have a car. 

However, a person with special needs needs their own car even in the city, as their "extra legs" or to drive a disabled child - and this is by no means a convenience option or one which could be easily replaced with an alternative.

Let us be fully honest here - a car could, for a person with special needs or their parents, be substituted for, but this would require a drastic change in the life of a family member, who would have to devote more time to care activities. It would be unfair for the state to expect such a thing from anyone.

The requirement of accessibility obliges government to take steps to ensure that those with special needs can avail themselves of all opportunities offered by social life, on an equal basis with others, be it going to school, to work or visiting the doctor, and also spending free time or visiting their grandparents. 

However, in order to take part in social life, it is necessary to get out of the house first and get there. Depending on the nature of a special need, this may require either an adapted vehicle or, in the case of a mental health disorder for instance, a companion with whom to move around safely.

I have spoken to parents who have to drive dozens of kilometers every day, before and after work, to take their special needs child to the appropriate school or day care center. 

This is ongoing even when a mentally disabled child is already legally an adult, but it would become a mission impossible in the absence of a car. If this parent, all too often a single mother, could no longer get to take her child to daycare, she could not go to work herself, meaning the state would lose tax revenue from her work. 

The increased expenses from the ensuing social benefits could also be noted in the Excel table. Outside of this Excel table, in the real world, however, it would represent an outrageous deterioration in the quality of life for an already suffering family.

Both Estonian and international law set as a goal the protection of the basic rights of people who have disabilities - not to create obstacles and barriers to the mobility of people with special needs, but instead to help with the measures needed to ensure that getting there and moving around is viable despite that disability. 

States have so far generally interpreted this as meaning that people with special needs, who already tend to have a lower income compared with others, get, in addition to services, significant or, depending on the degree of disability, full tax benefits. 

We cannot talk about any possible fraud schemes to evade tax here, as a disability is surely determined by a doctor, something which exists completely independently from the current tax system.

The car tax simply cannot be implemented in Estonia without taking into account the rights of disabled people and their family members. The corresponding proposal to make the best solutions for this was submitted by Eesti 200 at the initial stage of the draft already. 

Whatever the final means of reducing CO2 emissions and reforming public transport ends up being, nudging the national fleet of vehicles in a greener direction via taxing it or reducing the excess mass of cars, solutions must include exceptions regarding the needs of people with disabilities, in such a way that the situation of people with special needs does not worsen as a result.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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