Council to scrap free travel passes for vulnerable to meet budget cuts

Tapping an Oyster card. Pic: David Cartwright

Free travel passes for vulnerable members of the borough are to be scrapped by Lewisham council in budget cuts following its huge overspend,

These discretionary freedom passes allow free travel across London and free local bus journeys nationally.  They were offered by the council to people with medical conditions who did not meet the criteria for the mandatory passes elsewhere in London

Chris Best, Lewisham’s Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care told ELL: “Officers are facing some challenging choices on suggesting what we could cut to ensure we meet our legal requirement to set a balanced budget…

”Putting up a cut to the pass holders who are vulnerable and benefit from free travel concessions is not something that the Council wants to do. We value the benefit that this discretionary travel offers but we are facing severe budget pressures due to the additional costs from Covid-19 pandemic as well as lost income to the Council.”

Those people affected could potentially turn to other concessions such as the 60+ London Oyster photocard, delivered freely to anyone aged 60 or more, to travel across London.

The council hopes to save £3m from these cuts, which would affect 500 vulnerable residents from April 2021. It also aims to outsource several adult social care services, as this represented 33 percent of the service spend budget in the 2018-2019 period.

The council’s report on ‘Joint Working and Partnerships’ said these cuts could be implemented in a way so as “to soften the impact” they will cause. The process will begin by no longer accepting new applications, and not extending or renewing existing passes which usually happens every 5 years.

“This proposal has a negative impact on equalities for residents. Withdrawal of the free travel concession will make it harder for vulnerable clients to travel – socially or otherwise – potentially creating more isolation of vulnerable residents” the council’s report said.

Best added: “I would be delighted if the Government provided the funds to meet the costs of Covid-19 to Lewisham Council as well as a financial settlement that recognised the needs of some of the most vulnerable in our community.”

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