Bring Back Free Travel for Under 18s

Caroline Pidgeon AM

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member

Keeping up with transport developments in London is always a challenge, but at the moment it is even more difficult due to a whole set of new problems and changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The increase in cycling; the importance of safety when travelling (for both passengers and staff); the long-term implications of the growth in home working and the fallout from the much delayed opening of Crossrail – these are all, of course, incredibly important issues.

However, just for now I want to concentrate on one specific policy change coming soon to London, the ending of free travel for under 18 year olds.

Free travel for children and young people has existed for many years in London.

In 2005 and 2006 children’s travel concessions were extended by Transport for London (TfL) to make bus and tram travel free for children and young people under the age of 18. Alongside that, TfL’s rail and Tube services were made free for children under the age of 11. However, all this is set to change.

TfL, just like other transport authorities around the country, has been facing immense economic difficulties. Since March, people have been instructed to stay at home where possible and avoid journeys unless absolutely necessary. However, maintaining a comprehensive transport service, when fare income has dropped like a stone, has huge financial implications.  

It is against this background that TfL entered into a financial bailout deal with central government.  For anyone who wants to see the full details they can be seen here (page 63).

One of the many conditions set by central government was this specific policy “the suspension of free travel for u18s, subject to discussions in the working group about how it is to be operationalised”. What this one sentence means is that almost certainly from September routine free travel for under 18 year olds will come to an end in London. Despite the policy being supposedly a ‘temporary’ change there is no clear indication of how long it will last.

Now, it is true some school children will still be entitled to free transport to school. There is a statutory obligation to provide free travel between home and school (but not at other times) where children meet a range of complex criteria which include:

  • Age
  • Distance from school (this can be the nearest school, most suitable school according to religious requirements, or one of three suitable schools in some cases)
  • Family income (in receipt of full Working Tax Credit)
  • Eligibility for free school meals

So if free transport for all children and young people is suspended from September there will be a huge task facing London Boroughs to administer a new system of selective free transport, and to do so in just a few weeks.

At the same time many families are going to face changing economic circumstances.  Families facing redundancy and the prospect of applying for Universal Credit, will face a further burden to ensure they have secured free school transport for their children before schools and colleges fully re-open in September.  And this is after weeks of home schooling and all the pressures from the shutdown.

But, most critically, the policy will have a serious impact on children and young people, especially those from low income households.

Taking part in sporting and other activities in the evenings and weekends will be more difficult for many young people. Family trips will suddenly become a financial challenge in some households.

The ending of free travel will especially hit many 16 and 17 year olds, as there is no legal requirement for free school or college travel for this age group. Attending sixth form or college will become a serious challenge, just at a time when it is most needed for many young people.

With so many disadvantages, why is such a policy being imposed on London?  Afterall, free travel for under 18-year olds existed for the eight years Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, so why is his government now pulling it away from London’s young people? And why is such a detailed policy even being tagged on to a £1.6 billion bailout deal for TfL?  

 

There are two reasons why Boris Johnson’s government is imposing this policy on London.

The first is the claim that London is supposedly treated more favourably than the rest of the country.  Some Conservative MPs have even been quoted as saying it is wrong that free public transport exists in London when it doesn’t exist for other children and young people elsewhere.  Sadly such a view merely highlights ignorance and an anti London bias increasingly being displayed by this Government. In fact free transport for children and young people does exist in other places, including Scotland. 

The second argument to supposedly justify the policy is that ending free transport for children and young people will be beneficial by ensuring buses are not too crowded. However, clear caps on the number of people who can use buses now exist. The argument that in the past there were huge numbers of children and young people crowding on buses, only for very short journeys at peak hours, doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

Of course we do need to see more active travel by children and young people – a big increase is needed.  There is so much that needs to be done to make our roads safer and more attractive to encourage everyone to walk and cycle much more.  And perhaps we need to think about staggering the starting times of schools and colleges come September. 

Ripping away free public transport for under 18 year olds (at all times of the day) is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  

Incredibly, in defence of this policy, the Government claims there is academic research to back up their decision.   

However, thanks to the work of Sarah Olney MP, that research has been tracked down and it actually highlights the immense benefits of free travel for under 18-year olds.  In their arrogance the Government thought they could make misleading claims about research on free travel which they thought no one would bother reading.

The research report highlighted how free travel for u18s has reduced traffic casualties, increased bus travel and reduced car travel while not reducing the level of active travel by young people. 

The research specifically stated that the “monetised benefits have substantially outweighed the costs, providing what the Department for Transport (DfT) considers ‘high’ value for money”. 

In its conclusion it states: “There was qualitative evidence for benefits on social determinants of health, such as normalisation of bus travel, greater social inclusion and opportunities for independent travel. In the context of a good bus service, universal free bus travel for young people appears to be a cost-effective contributor to social inclusion and, potentially, to increasing sustainable transport in the long term.”

Children and young people have faced restrictions and real challenges in recent months, and especially those from low income households.  The last thing they need is to have further problems created for them and their life opportunities further reduced.

For reasons of personal development and good mental health the ability of young people to travel is vital.  For young people in London that definitely means full access to public transport. To deny that to young people, after the pain of the last few months, is indefensible.  

I urge people to join the growing campaign against this policy being imposed on London. 

And finally please help ensure our MPs are told that decisions relating to the transport options for London’s children and young people are best decided by Londoners and their elected Mayor and Assembly - and not Grant Shapps.

Caroline Pidgeon AM

 

 

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Make Votes Matter National Action Day

Saturday 22 August is the National Action Day for Making Votes Matter, a nationwide campaign for fair votes. We have long supported the campaign for fair votes and are pleased to see the campaign going strong across Lambeth and across parties. Do get involved and help us #ChangeTheVotingSystem!

We remain committed to electoral reform for Westminster and for local government. No matter what party you vote for it cannot be right that over half of voters regularly see the parties they vote for locked out of national or local government. Fairness aside, it is clear from 2020 that a party elected with a minority of voters but a large majority of MPs will do what is best for itself and its friends rather than the nation. We saw this with the PM's unwavering support for his chief advisor's breaking of the Lockdown rules, where millions of ordinary people had done their very best to abide by. Or with the government's callous disregard for the many pupils harmed in the recent A-Level debacle. 

We can make a difference. We can champion electoral reform across London by adopting STV for council elections, like the Lib Dems introduced in Scotland for 2007. Let's make votes matter in Lambeth and Westminster.

 

 

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2.2 Million Extremely Vulnerable Shielders

2.2m EXTREMELY VULNERABLE  (The Forgotten) 

 

By Donna Harris.

I would describe myself as an energetic outgoing  positive individual who loves life & lives it to the full but back in March all of that came to an end abruptly by no fault of my own or desire.  On Friday 13th March along with fellow Lambeth Lib Dems we enjoyed a fun evening of wining, dining & dancing until the early hours after being told by the Government we should be careful but we needed to get out & create herd immunity.

The next day I received a call from my father, in Tenerife, where he reported that the island was being shut down. A friend who works in the NHS called that same day and begged me to stay at home until further  notice. They called because back in 2014 & after much illness I was diagnosed with an aggressive multi systemic autoimmune disease which primarily affects my nervous & respiratory system. I  therefore have spent many years on toxic immunosuppressants. I am one of the 2.2 million who were told to shield.

It has been and remains a serious strain for those of us shielding, but it has been made worse by Westminster's sometimes inexplicable and cruel actions. Lambeth Borough also has made a questionable decision forcing our care staff to pay for parking which affects the most vulnerable & those who can ill afford extra costs, we must stop this urgently.

 

Shielders

There seems to be a misperception that the ‘shielded 2.2 million elderly or frail & somewhere between a drain on society and a group to protect. However most ‘shielders’ are under the age of 70 & includes children/babies & therefore their parents too.

There were  also a large amount of family members shielding alongside their loved ones helping to protect them, however family members were not advised by the Government to shield but it is near impossible to follow the advice to keep safe & socially distanced. I was very  lucky but even with the luxury of a comfortable home and a garden it has been an extremely difficult time. 

There are also those less fortunate who have been completely on their  own & in many cases ‘shielders’ feeling trapped in their  homes having no outside space to escape to and unlike many European countries we were not given the luxury of a 1 hour window by the Government for exercise despite numerous requests, this means many of us were trapped at home & indoors for over 140  days.

Many ‘shielders’ like myself have invisible illnesses & don't look unwell & due to modern day science & medications have lead active lives up until now. The fear of Covid 19 to all of us in this group cannot be underestimated & being mostly left to our own devices has caused a lot stress for most. Shielding has been mentioned frequently on the news but the difficulty of our situation most certainly doesn’t come across or the isolation felt & disconnect from society. 

(for any Mental health support please see Kathryn’s Blog, May 2020)

My story is just one of many from the 2.2 million and I have asked 3 very different ‘shielders’ to share their stories:

 

DR MARTHA, SOUTH LONDON;

I know infection control inside out from work. We ‘gel in and gel out’ of the kitchen, enter through the back door and wash and change if anyone has been out, and I live mainly in one room that I have converted to a bedroom. During lockdown I had the freedom of the whole house, I felt safe. Now it is relaxed, I do not. I cannot hug anyone, eat dinner with my family, regain any of my roles in the household, and that is before considering the self care it takes to recover any strength and keep my medical appointments, prescriptions and so on rolling.

But it is very important that my children can return as soon as possible to their lives and begin to accept the new normal, because their psychological well being is essential. Anxiety, social withdrawal, lack of movement, lack of school, was affecting them all. My eldest is returning to health care work, she must for herself, and anyway has no choice. Their anxiety, despite my reassurances, is accentuated by their concern for me, and the risk of infecting me.

Any risk of covid is too much for me to accept. I have to get well and keep well, if I can, for my family as well as for myself, and I was so excited at the thought of normality after all this time. In January I imagined actually going out like a normal person, going to the supermarket, walking my dog, going to the pub with my husband, going on holiday with my family, giving back to friends so much of what they gave me, and hopefully one day retraining to return to work. Ironically, now, it is my family who will put me most at risk at home, and if I limit their freedom (against guidance), I risk damaging their own recovery from these difficult times.

I thought I could cope psychologically with living a restricted life at home. I was wrong,. The pressure and anxiety was testing me too much, stress is itself a trigger factor my auto-immune disease. My mother’s house was empty, and so, for now, I moved out.

 

BEN, TULSE HILL;

Like many, I received the letter, the NHS phone call and then more letters from my hospital and GP about shielding. It was a strange few weeks and I didn't feel any more unsafe than I had before, but the advice to shield seemed logical, so we decided to follow it. Twelve weeks on, as that original letter set out, I have not been inside another building, or more than a few hundred metres from home. It has been strange, but I have coped, if just because it could be a lot worse. I could have the virus. I could have lost my job. I could live in an area without a supportive community network that offered help to those of us shut away in our apartments or houses. I have found it easier to be stoic for these reasons. But I will look forward to August and hope that the end of shielding will happen, not just for my partner and I, but for everyone shut away, whether they are coping or not.

Not everyone will be looking forward to returning to work when the government guidance says they can, not everyone will be assured by the government's mixed messages on safety. Vulnerable people will still be vulnerable and, importantly, feel vulnerable and as an employment solicitor I understand just how hard a decision it can be to refuse to return to work when one feels at risk and is at risk. My employer is sympathetic to my situation but not all will be and the government must take this into account when pushing the economy to reopen.

                   

MARJORIE, BALHAM;

My carer comes every day of the year to help get me up, showered and dressed, ready for the day. First, she has to find somewhere to park. Then she dismantles my overnight feeding system, makes my bed, and a little breakfast.  For the last few months under lockdown, she’s also dealt with the rubbish and swept and mopped the kitchen floor.  All this is done with a heart-warming smile and a willingness which always makes me feel better. Yet she has to hurry. When ten o’clock comes, here in Thornton ward she is in danger of being penalised if she does not pay a parking charge. Over the border, she would not have to worry about this because they exempt home carers from parking charges. She will already have been to two, and occasionally three, other elderly women living on their own, starting at 6.30 am. She has to help them out of bed, take them to the toilet or commode – not always a quick activity  - wash and dress them, give them breakfast and make them comfortable – and all before the parking charge starts – in some areas at 8.30 am. And did I mention doing their shopping? Her best friend, another home carer, working in Brixton has just got a parking ticket because her luck ran out. All the home carers have to take a chance in Lambeth that they won’t get a parking ticket. And yet Lambeth has more elderly single people needing home care than almost all other London boroughs. Home carers have identity cards, so giving them parking charge exemptions, which district nurses and doctors have, should be no problem.

——————

On hearing Marjorie's plight I was horrified to hear about her carer’s situation & after a bit of investigation found out she was indeed quite right & neighbouring boroughs indeed do not charge carers ( carers just have to pop their IV/ID onto their dashboards )  while Lambeth, carers are expected to pay or use a residents/visitors permit at a cost of £5.48 per voucher, residents are only allowed 50 per year! Our neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich  and Wandsworth do not seem to charge carers, so why does Lambeth make it harder? 

This appears to be adding insult to injury to some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we will be pursuing this issue urgently with Lambeth.

 

The End In Sight?

Monday July 6th was the day we no longer needed to observe social distancing with other members of our households, we were finally able to meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors & those who have been totally on their own could form a support bubble without socially distancing! This was all fantastic news but the caveat began on the 1st August. On that day the advice to shield was  paused but we were advised to to adopt strict social distancing. The fear comes for many because from that day employers have expected  ‘shielders’ to return to work but for some this will be too much & for others just completely impossible because of the nature of their work. This fear has proven true.

I was so pleased to see immediately after this announcement Munira Wilson MP responded by saying; “Vulnerable people who cannot return to work must get sick pay.” The Pandemic has shown that politicians in Westminster and the national media do not understand our country's sick pay rules. Statutory Sick Pay is only £95 per week and is only payable to those who earn £120 or more, so many miss out. Many very small employers struggle to pay even this small amount, as they usually receive no government help, outside of limited Pandemic situations. To both quickly remove the sick pay entitlement for shielders, whilst refusing to support small employers puts many in a terrible situation where they feel they have no choice. This is not ok.

Shielding is not going to go away as an issue whilst the Pandemic remains. Those who were vulnerable, remain vulnerable and with the country entering what appears to be a cycle of local lockdowns we must do more to help shielders both at home and returning to normal activity, like work or socialising. We help by trying to sort out Lambeth Council's carer parking problem.

 

 

 







 

 

 

 

 

 







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Black Lives Matter

Lambeth Liberal Democrats will continue to take action until we have a fair, free and open society. 


Equality is one of the constitutional values of our party. Yet in recent weeks we have seen increasingly clearly how we are not a ‘fair, free and open society’. Our BAME neighbours have suffered excessively as a consequence of Covid-19; the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests remind us how change has been too slow in the US and here.

We must put race equality and social justice at the heart of all our campaigns. We must be clear who we stand with. We must each ask ourselves every day what we can do better to bring about change. We must challenge racism whenever we find it: whether it is in the bias of stop and search on our own streets in Lambeth, the policies of the UK Government, or the actions of the President of the United States. 

Please read his message from Roderick Lynch on the work of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Race Equality (which he chairs), the inquiry into BAME deaths from Covid-19 and what we need to do as Lib Dems.

Doug Buist

Chair, Lambeth Liberal Democrats

10th June 2020


 

As the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Racial Equality I and my executive welcomed the news that the NHS England and Public Health England would be leading on the inquiry into why Black and Ethnic Minority communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  The most recent figures show that of the 200 healthcare workers known to have died from the virus, 61% were from a minority ethnic background.

Clearly, we needed to ensure that the internal enquiry was genuine, fair, and transparent, but equally there were countless people waiting for answers. Without these answers, it will be more difficult to address the situation and find solutions to a problem that could well emerge in the future if there is a second outbreak of COVID-19.   That is why many across a broad spectrum of political persuasions, campaigners and health professionals raised eyebrows when Sir Trevor Phillips was included as part of the review.

From the onset we at LDCRE called out on the government’s continuing failure to record the ethnicity of Covid-19 patients is risking the lives of both frontline BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) NHS workers and citizens across the UK.   We called for comprehensive data to be collected from everyone who suffers from this terrible disease. Lib Dems fully understand the unprecedented pressure on the government, and we know it is doing its best, but the fact is that coronavirus will only be beaten by two things - the NHS and pandemic data.

Some people have hypothesised reasons of deprivation and multi-generational occupancy in BAME communities, and higher incidences of diabetes and hypertension amongst the Black population. However, this is not the whole picture as this is counterbalanced by the fact that older people of Black African descent do not smoke as much, so subsequently have lower rates of respiratory disease, cancer, and coronary disease. The reasons are more complicated, as ethnicity is a complex socio-cultural construct.

But the Public Health Enquiry published on Tuesday told us nothing that many did not know. 

This is a situation that involves the joint efforts of all parties and where any political differences need to be put aside in working for the common good.

With the loosening of lockdown rules and more people returning to work, we are concerned about the impact this will have on vulnerable BAME employees, many of whom are represented in the public sector and key worker roles.

We are living in a global crisis that has brought social justice to the forefront of Liberal Democrats to campaign for; the death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality, the rights of LGBTQ communities, BAME NHS and Adult Social care who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, to the scandal of the high number of deaths in nursing homes. 

Lockdown has proved that campaigning for social justice we the Liberal Democrats must reach communities to stand up for their rights and the voices to be heard.

I am from the Windrush generation where my family have suffered the greatest of inequality and have paid the ultimate consequence.

LDCRE wants to hear from you, the party has to engage with the BAME community, such a diverse borough as Lambeth needs to hear from the Lib Dems in greater numbers.

Roderick Lynch
Chair, LDCRE 

Discover more: LDCRE

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21,120 EU nationals in Lambeth left in limbo

21,120 EU nationals in Lambeth left in limbo

The Liberal Democrats are calling for EU citizens to be given the automatic right to stay in the UK, as new official figures show 21,120 EU nationals living in Lambeth have not been granted permanent Settled Status to remain in the UK.

Pointing to the contribution of EU nationals working in the NHS during the Covid-19 crisis, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine urged the Government to “show its own support for the people’s heroes by extending the right to remain to all EU and foreign nationals, many of whom are fighting for our lives."

Of the 48,100 EU nationals across Lambeth who have applied for permanent residency, only 26,390 have been granted settled status.

3,840 EU nationals living in Lambeth have applied to the Home Office scheme but are still waiting for a final decision to be made. Another 17,280 have been given only temporary Pre-Settled Status, meaning they will have to reapply within five years or be forced to leave the UK.

Although the Home Office has announced a one-year visa extensions for certain health and care staff, the Liberal Democrats have secured cross-party support for their campaign to give all health and social care workers on the frontline of this crisis indefinite leave to remain.

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

“The coronavirus crisis is an unprecedented threat. NHS staff, social care workers and other health professionals are putting themselves in harm’s way each and every day to keep us safe. The Government has a chance to show its own support for the people’s heroes by extending the right to remain to all EU and foreign nationals, many of whom are fighting for our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic."

Florence Cyrot Mele, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Lambeth & Southwark in next year's GLA elections, added:

“Too many EU nationals in Lambeth are deeply anxious about their right to stay. With the uncertainty of Brexit, it’s disgraceful to leave them in legal limbo like this. London is their home, many were born here, they have always contributed positively to our communities and society.

EU nationals came here thanks to the EU freedom of movement as Brits settled down abroad in the same way. We all welcomed them and benefited from all the new ideas, knowledge and skills that they brought with them. They can not be treated as second class citizens by the new government. Families and children must not be made to live under a cloud of uncertainty any longer. 

The Liberal Democrats will continue to stand up for EU citizens by fighting to guarantee their rights to live and work in the UK."

STOP PRESS - The Home Office has decided to change the naturalisation requirements for Settled Status holders by imposing new insurance obligations. We will update when we have more information.

 


The latest figures on the EU settlement scheme including by local authority are available here.

 

 

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