Newham Council insists freedom passes are safe ‘at this time’

Voluntary groups have promised to keep a close eye on Newham’s services for vulnerable people in the wake of council cost cutting measures.

Council officers have expressed doubt over the cost of its share of funding freedom passes for elderly and disabled public transport users.

Taxpayers will have to shell out more than �10m next financial year to support the scheme because of fare and usage increases - a rise of 11% on 2011/12.

The increase led officers, when finalising next year’s budget, to state that “freedom passes remain a risk” and to call for a review of the service.

Newham Council has said there are no plans “at this time” to make any changes to the scheme in the borough.

Val Fone, director of Action and Rights for Disabled People in Newham, said freedom passes were important to her clients.

She said: “They are absolutely vital if you want disabled or older people to be active members of the community.

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“Nothing takes place right outside your doorstep, we have all got to go to places and getting on the buses is part of their social interaction.”

Plans to review the future of concessionary fares, including taxicards, were withdrawn before they could be discussed at the last Cabinet meeting.

Newham Council has already scrapped its meals on wheels service after an increase in charges meant a fall in users, making the scheme “financially unviable.”

Elderly and disabled users will now have to make their own decisions over where to go for delivered meals, with support from the council.

Mrs Fone added: “The officers know what our feelings are about it.”

A Newham Council spokesman said: “We believe very strongly in helping our residents in tough times. Freedom Passes make a huge difference to many people’s lives.

“The decision to increase the cost of fares is down to regional government, who coordinate the scheme with councils across the capital.

“The increased cost to Newham reflects the high level of people in the borough with Freedom Passes who have access to our excellent transport system. There are also a large number of disabled people who live in Newham.”