Calls to reinstate free bus travel for children

Redbridge Council has called on the Government to reinstate free bus travel for children, insisting it will make “children from poor backgrounds even poorer”.

After the Government spent £1.6 billion stopping Transport for London (TfL) going bankrupt due to the financial impact of coronavirus, they insisted free travel ends for under-18s.

Redbridge Council leader Jas Athwal, along with council leaders and MPs in the area, signed a letter insisting the change is “desperately unfair”.

The letter said it will “risk the wellbeing of our poorest children” and “unfairly shift another financial burden onto local councils”.

It said Redbridge Council “will continue to meet the needs of children eligible for free transport to school” but the letter warned that this “will hit the poorest boroughs hardest at a time of deep economic uncertainty”.

It adds: “This is not just about getting to school. For many children, free travel is often the only way to get to shops and other facilities like local parks and youth centres.

“The Government risks making children from poor backgrounds even poorer. This is simply unacceptable.

“We demand the Government rethinks their plans and stops playing politics with young people’s lives.”

On Twitter, Cllr Athwal added: “It is unacceptable that the Government has chosen to use the cost pressures of Covid-19 to force @MayorofLondon to scrap free & reduced cost transport to under 18s.

“I’ve joined Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge & Havering colleagues to oppose the plans.”

Havering Council leader Damian White was not among those to sign the letter.

On May 12, it was announced that TfL could go bust within two days if the Government did not strike a deal to plug the estimated £4 billion gap in its finances caused by coronavirus.

Last month London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who chairs TfL, said: “It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever.”

He added that he understood the need to “reduce the numbers of children using bus services”.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter