Success on EU Settled Status Council Help

Today Lambeth Council has revealed that it has made financial provision for supporting EU nationals navigate the new Settled Status migration status created to replace Freedom of Movement rights. We welcome this move. The Lambeth Liberal Democrats have been lobbying the Council for sometime now to roll out provisions like other London or UK boroughs have done and whilst we would have preferred this to be in place in 2020, before the first cut-off deadline, now’s good as well.

We also suggested to the Council that further effort be made to inform EU and other residents about the requirement to obtain settled or pre settled status. We recommended that the Council send a further mail-out to all Lambeth households with this information and links to where to get further advice or support. It is disappointing that the Council has not decided to take up this suggestion as well. This is disapointing and we will lobby the Council to change its mind on this.

We look forward to seeing the money being provided urgently to the CAB, Southwark Law Centre and Indoamerican Migrant Refugee Organisation and that this money be spent urgently on providing enhanced advice services. We intend to check with the Council and these organisations to see how this money has been allocated and how effectively it has been used to support our EU residents needing help. We are particularly interested in finding out which organisations applied for support and if any were refused.

Check out our Settled Status Campaign if you wish to know more.

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In the dark: regrets on the end of an era

On 1 January 2021 the UK begins life fully outside the EU as the transition period ends. For many EU citizens living in the EU it marks the end of an era; a time to reflect on what has been lost and an uncertain future.

On Christmas Day, Florence Cyrot spoke to French radio station Europe 1 about her experience. Florence moved to London from France in August 2001 and is the Lib Dems' candidate for the Lambeth & Southwark constituency in May's elections for the Greater London Assembly.

Listen to the interview in French or read a transcript in English below.

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Review of Lambeth wards in progress

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England is currently reviewing the ward boundaries for Lambeth.

According to the LGBCE’s website, the review will “mean each councillor will represent approximately the same number of voters… [and] ensure that the pattern of wards reflect the interests and identities of local communities as well as promoting effective local government.” Lambeth currently has 21 wards with three councillors in each.

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Settled Status December 2020

Over 50,000 people in Lambeth have already applied for Settled or Pre Settled Status, according to Home Office figures, but time is running out for our fellow Lambeth residents to beat the Brexit clock.  The Lambeth Liberal Democrats are absolutely committed to doing what we can to help make sure people are both not left out in converting their status and that their rights and contribution are recognised and protected. We are concerned that despite good will, neither central nor local government is doing enough given the Pandemic and the possibility of the so called "Australian style" No Deal. We will not let that happen and are committed to campaigning as hard as we can to stop a disaster. Please check out our Campaigns Page!

Settled Status and Pre Settled Status refer to the new legal status created for EU nationals resident within UK and Northern Ireland. Applicants have till June 30 2021 to apply, but they must be in country by end of 2020 to do so. We believe that these statuses are not what was promised by the Leave Campaigns or indeed the UK government and this leaves our many EU residents in a weak position. Our specific concerns are: Hostile Environment, People missing out and EU family members of UK nationals who wish to return home.

Settled Status must be applied for - it isn't a basic grant. This means that if people do not apply for it, they will not get it. Even before the Pandemic, there was a real and material risk that many would miss out, due to a variety of factors, like being vulnerable adults or children, poor language skills, access to legal advice or basic information, lack of technological prowess (applicants must use a smartphone) or just bad luck with timing (like being overseas for a sudden emergency when a deadline passes). The Pandemic has made everything harder and Settled Status is no exception. Whilst it is easy to apply for compared to other immigration statuses, it still requires preparation and work. When people are distracted due to their safety, jobs, or mental health, they will not always be able to find out things they need to know.  

Many people are now not even sucesfully obtaining Settled Status, which is worrying, as that means their status is going to be uncertain for some time.  At the start of the Pandemic, 55% of applicants received Settled Status versus 45% Pre Settled Status. In November 2020 it is now 57% receiving Pre Settled Status and 43% Settled Status.

What can we do now? 

We need to ensure that all EU nationals know about their new obligation and that they get Settled or Pre Settled Status. This means lots of work to meet people and communities to ensure they are aware. It is a numbers game. We Lib Dems are well known for flooding people with leaflets but this is exactly what needs to happen now. Both the UK government and Lambeth Council need to make repeated efforts to reach people, by regular mail outs and focused contact with at risk groups. 

We also need to ensure that there is advice available. There are volunteer groups like Settled helping EU residents work through the process and of course the CAB and volunteer legal advice services, but given the scale we need specialist Settled Status advisors who are multi-lingual. 

We have written to the Lambeth Council leader to ask him to redouble the Council's efforts on this matter over the next 6 months and we will report back on what we find.

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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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