The Freedom Pass, which ensures free travel to London’s over sixties, could be cut back after the elections when a reduced Government grant will mean that local councils are expected to pick up a bigger part of the tab. According to its users, the card is now an important part of life, and not something they would be happy to lose
The Freedom Pass has been available to the over 60s and disabled people in London since the Greater London Authority Act in 1999. The cards mean unlimited free travel off-peak on the capital’s buses, Underground, Docklands Light Railway, Croydon Tramlink, Overground and local rail services.
Around 1.2 million Londoners use the pass, under a scheme that sees local councils currently contributing a third of the cost, while other areas of the country have their schemes fully funded by the government.
But their value in the eyes of politicians was put under the microscope recently, as central government announced plans to reduce funding for the capital from £58 million to £28 million. In Croydon that means forking out an additional £1.2million to pay for the cost of Freedom Pass travel next year.
Mike Fisher, Conservative councillor in the borough says: “We made a strong case to the people responsible for the review, but our voices have quite simply been ignored. Our budget for next year was finely balanced, and this announcement is bound to have real impact on other services.”
The passes “mean the world” to those who use them, according to Sandra Hutton, 63, who lives in Croydon. “I used to be a nurse before I retired. My pension isn’t very big. I’m quite fit and like going to see friends. My daughter and grandchildren live in Tower Hamlets and I use my Freedom Pass to go and see them.”
Jill Tate, 63, a retired maths teacher, who also lives in Croydon, sympathises with the cuts. “It’s a recession so the council has to cut back. It’s just what they cut that’s important and by how much. Everyone will be looking at that.
“There are a lot of old people like me in Croydon,” she laughs. “I hope the politicians realise how important our votes are.”
According to the 2001 census, Croydon is home to the largest number of people over 60 in boroughs along the East London line, with over 56,000 (17 per cent of the population.)
Lewisham has around 34,000 (14 per cent of the population), Tower Hamlets roughly 24,500 (13 per cent of the population), and Hackney 25,500 (13 per cent).
The Freedom Pass was London-based only until April 2008, when All England Bus Travel was introduced, entitling British residents over 60 or disabled across the country to a free annual bus pass giving free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in the country. This meant that any British resident, rather than just London residents, could travel on London buses for free.
The introduction of All England Bus Travel meant increases in costs for local authorities where they have had to subsidise additional free bus travel. But a separate Special Grant was set up solely to help local authorities meet these costs.
But the total Special Grant was more lucrative than expected. The sum allocated for London for the first two years has been approximately £100 million more than the All England Bus Travel scheme has cost London. As a result, some London Boroughs have actually made a profit on the Special Grant. None of the Councils refunded this windfall at the time, and they are not being asked to do so now.
In the next financial year the Government proposes to give London a Special Grant of approximately £30 million.
Between 2008-09, All England Bus Travel cost London between £4.1 million and £5.1 million and £6.7 million between 2009-2010.