Organisations urge Transport Minister to maintain travel subsidies for young people
JCORE, alongside eight other NGOs who support the rights and needs of refugee and migrant children and young people, have written to the Minister of Transport, to raise concerns about the impact of the proposed suspension of free travel for under 18-year olds in London.
The full copy of the letter can be read below:
Rt Hon Grant Shapps
MP Secretary of State for Transport
15 September 2020
Dear Secretary of State,
Proposed Removal of Travel Subsidies for Young People
We are writing to you to raise our concerns about the impact of the proposed suspension of free travel for under 18-year olds in London to reduce transport usage in the wake of COVID-19.
We are a group of NGOs working collaboratively to ensure that the rights and needs of refugee and migrant children and young people are promoted and protected. Most of us work directly with children and young people and see on a daily basis the impact of COVID-19 on them, on top of the systemic problems that were already affecting their health and wellbeing.
We want to raise our concerns about the impact of the proposed suspension of free travel for under 18-year olds in London to reduce transport usage in the wake of COVID-19. We were very pleased and appreciative of your recent decision to delay the suspension until after the October half term holidays. We understand the delay to be an acknowledgement of the serious disruption this would have caused to children’s and young people’s return to school or colleges and that you have listened to representations from children and young people themselves and their parents about the negative impact on them and particularly on the disadvantaged amongst them.
However we do have ongoing concerns for vulnerable young refugees and migrants in London aged under 18 including those seeking asylum, who would be greatly affected by the suspension of free travel if they do not fall into one of the categories of children who will remain eligible (as detailed in the letter from your department to TfL on 31st of July). In particular this will be those under 18 who are not in school or college, those who don’t have a social worker, and families who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF), including those reliant on asylum support
Refugee and migrant children and young people in London already face multiple disadvantages, including poverty and destitution, homelessness, debt, social isolation, traumatic past experiences, and poor mental health. These disadvantages have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we have observed that social isolation and being unable to meet face-to-face with their support networks has had a deeply negative impact on the living conditions, mental health and educational opportunities of these young people.
Like many young people in London, prior to the pandemic, and now that the lockdown has eased, the young people we work with depend on free travel on a daily basis to access a range of essential services, including education, training, legal advice, healthcare appointments, social activities and specialist charity support. For these young people these services provide a vital lifeline of support but are often complicated by their status in the UK and the accommodation provided to them - they are often not in the same area, and young people usually need to travel for considerable distances in order to access vital services. Furthermore, there are often significant delays in finding school and college places for these young people (especially when they arrive in the UK mid year), in which time they are often reliant on accessing non statutory youth activities and programmes. For those young people who came to the UK separated from their families, and under traumatic conditions, they rely heavily on free travel to visit the friends and networks across the city who provide them with vital emotional support. The consequences of removing free travel for these groups of young people would be profound; they simply would not be able to afford to continue travelling to access the support and services they rely on to survive. For those children in care (but do not fall into any of the categories of children who will remain eligible for free travel e.g. they are not in college or school), this would create an additional financial burden on local social services to subsidise this extra cost. This is at a time when local authorities are already under the economic strain created by the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of an already difficult financial situation.
We are also concerned about the impact of ending of free travel for thousands of young people whose families are on a low income, those who live under the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) condition, and those on asylum support. Those families with NRPF conditions are often forced into poverty or destitution since they are ineligible to access benefits or other public funds as a result of their immigration status. Likewise families who are living on asylum support, and already struggling to survive on the current rates of maintenance support, would suffer enormously from the additional financial burden. In both cases the children of these families are reliant on free travel while living under extremely challenging financial circumstances – and without which they would be denied their rights to education, health and play.
It is vital that this universal benefit for all young people in London is maintained as an inclusion, community cohesion and equality statement too. When they are excluded from such much due to their immigration status, funding and eligibility problems, the importance of receiving this universal service and being part of the youth community across London cannot be overstated.
We are able to provide ample evidence for the poverty and myriad life challenges these young people face, and case studies demonstrating how vital free travel is for the young people we work with in London, and would welcome this opportunity if asked.
For the reasons listed above, we urge you to withdraw the proposal to remove free travel for under 18s on TfL services entirely.
Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (CARAS)
JCORE Unaccompanied Minors Project (JUMP) at The Jewish Council for Racial Equality
The Children’s Society
The Migrant and Refugee Children's Legal Unit (MiCLU) at Islington Law Centre
The South London Refugee Association (SLRA)
The Unity Project