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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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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