In a report to be presented at Friday’s (13th December) Environment, Highways and Waste Cabinet Committee meeting (1), it is proposed to limit the 11-16 year old Freedom Pass to journeys up to the value £350. The current Freedom Pass allows unlimited journeys within Kent.
The report also proposes the introduction of a new Freedom Pass for 16–20 year olds which will be limited to journeys up to the value of £250. Both passes will cost £100 to buy and when the limit is exhausted young people or their parents will have to top up the card by purchasing extra credit.The changes hope to save £7 million as part of KCC’s drive to reduce its costs by £239 million over the next four years.
Kent Green Party believes that such a drastic reduction in help for youngsters travelling to and from school and college is short-sighted, adding more traffic, noise and congestion on Kent’s roads, and causing potential hardship for many families. It would like to see a more generous scheme, financed by cuts to other areas, such as new road building, a phased approach to the changes, and greater weighting than at present to aid those who most need help.
Green Party County Councillor Martin Whybrow said: “I fully understand that KCC is under enormous budget constraints as a result of central government cuts and that the attractiveness of the existing Freedom Pass means it is extremely expensive for KCC. However, the proposed changes are a massive hit for Kent’s youngsters and their families. They particularly discriminate against young people in rural areas who have to make longer journeys to school or college. Their credit will be used up much sooner than young people living in urban areas of Kent and their parents may have to find up to another £300 or £400 per year to pay for the additional credit.
“It will also be another significant setback for Kent’s poorest residents, already under great pressure from the government’s attack on benefits. Some of our towns such as Canterbury, Dartford, Dover, Folkestone, Margate and Ramsgate have rates of child poverty of 20% and above (2). Forcing already hard pushed parents to pay additional travel costs will make their financial situation even worse.“We already know from a report on the impact of welfare benefit changes in Kent, which was suppressed by KCC leader, Paul Carter, last week, that a growing number of Kent families are struggling to make ends meet. Forcing many of these families to pay out additional school and college costs will cause incredible hardship for these families (3).”