Cuts: Discretionary freedom passes could go in Lewisham

Lewisham Council could scrap the free travel it offers vulnerable people in a bid to save money.

The proposal forms part of the council’s draft budget cuts published last week and set to go to scrutiny today (November 11) for the first time. 

See more: Lewisham Council publishes draft budget cuts

The cabinet member for health and adult social care said they “reflect the incredible challenge that Lewisham is facing following ten years of austerity”, as well as the impact of the pandemic. 

Nearly £27 million in possible cuts have been identified out of £40 million planned over the next three years.    

Freedom passes are mandatory concessions that provide free travel in England for disabled residents. 

Lewisham offers a discretionary freedom pass to people who have medical conditions that are not severe enough to meet the criteria for the mandatory one, which then allows them to travel for free within London. 

By getting rid of the scheme, the council hopes to save £300,000 in 2021/22.  

If approved, the proposal would come into force from April of next year.  

According to an appendix attached to the draft budget cuts report, the move “is not a cost shunt for the most vulnerable”.  

“Currently, it is projected that 500 vulnerable residents will no longer be able to take advantage of free travel in London.  

“However, other concessions are available for some of those clients who may lose out and which are not funded by Lewisham including the 60+ concession for residents over the age of 60 and the elderly freedom pass,” it states.  

The document states the change could be implemented in a few different ways to “soften the impact”, including phasing it in by no longer accepting new applications or not extending the concessions to clients on renewal. 

But it also states: “The pass holders are vulnerable and benefit from free travel concessions by being able travel freely using their concession.  

“Withdrawing these would be seen as a negative given their vulnerability and there is only very limited scope to mitigate against this.” 

Councillor Chris Best, deputy mayor and cabinet member for health and adult social care, said the council is “looking closely” at those who currently receive free travel and “how we can best support them”.  

“The draft proposals in the budget report reflect the incredible challenge that Lewisham is facing following ten years of austerity and the financial impact of responding to the pandemic.  

“Our frontline services are under pressure and we are doing everything we can to continue to support our residents.  

“Without knowing what the Government’s financial settlement for local authorities will be, we are faced with the reality of having to make cuts to our services,” she said.

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