Barking and Dagenham MPs urge government to scrap TfL bailout condition to suspend free travel for children

Jon Cruddas and Margaret Hodge. Picture: Mark Shales

Jon Cruddas and Margaret Hodge. Picture: Mark Shales - Credit: Archant

A group of MPs has demanded the government continue to provide free travel for young people.

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas and Barking member of parliament Dame Margaret Hodge joined 13 Labour Party and Liberal Democrat MPs to insist children should not be “subjected to further harm”.

The government announced in May it would be giving Transport for London (TfL) a grant of about £1billion and a further £505million loan in response to TfL being in “serious financial difficulty” due to a drop in demand during lockdown.

A temporary suspension of free travel for under 18s is a condition of the funding.

Dame Margaret said: “The decision to scrap free travel for young people is a bad decision made at the worst possible time.

“As we begin to recover from the Covid-19 crisis, young people need to be able to return to apprenticeships, school, college and work.

“Scrapping free travel will make this so much harder and will hinder the recovery. It will impact young people from a disadvantaged background the most too.

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“Many struggling families simply cannot afford these travel costs and they will subsequently miss out on career and learning opportunities. The government must think again,” she added.

However, a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The decision about under-18 travel is a temporary measure to help tackle the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the risk of crowding on our transport network.

“We have also ensured the concession for children eligible under national legislation for free home to school travel will continue.”

But the MPs point out the capital has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK with 43 per cent of children in inner London and 34pc in outer London in relative poverty.

“Following the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown, London’s children and young people have become even more vulnerable,” they state in a letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps dated July 14.

They warn without free travel many children will travel less and miss out on school, college, work and training.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Sadiq has been clear that ​suspending free travel for under 18s is unfair, could hit the poorest Londoners hardest and will place additional administrative and financial burdens on already stretched schools and ​local authorities.”

TfL experts have examined how the changes might be made to work and made a list of reasons why it would be difficult to implement​ by September when the government wants free travel suspended by.

However, the government maintains that its funding package for TfL was agreed upon by the Mayor of London and the deputy mayor for transport.

All councils within London already identify children eligble for free home to school travel on the underground or by rail and the government has proposed measures to simplify the process of identifying those eligible.

Its guidance remains that people should avoid using public transport wherever possible, to continue to suppress the spread of the virus.

“We are asking people to use alternative modes of transport where possible, and are investing £2bn into making cycling and walking easier and safer,” the DfT spokesperson said.