Shropshire Council listens on student fares hike but hits poorest

On Radio Shropshire earlier this week, portfolio holder Ann Hartley and Karen Bradshaw Director of children’s services announced changes to hikes in post-16 transport to sixth form and college. This follows a consultation which fairly predictably came out against the huge leap in fares.

Shropshire Council had planned to hike the cost of a bus pass from £550 to £878 a year from September. Now it is going to phase the increase over three years.

Following the consultation, students will have to pay £658 during the next academic year. That’s still an eye-watering hike of £324 a year, but it’s a lot better that Shropshire Council’s initial proposal. But over three years, the cost is set to hike 60%.

For students whose families receive benefits, the costs of a pass will rise from £10 to £22.50 a term next year, increasing to £47.50 in 2016. This may not seem a huge amount of money, but when you have next to no money it’s a great deal.

The charge for those on defined benefits is described by Shropshire Council as an ‘administrative charge’. How come the council’s administrative costs are set to rocket 375% in three years?

Date Full term Defined benefit
Sept 2013 (now) £183 £10.00
Sept 2014 £219 £22.50
Sept 2015 £255 £35.00
Sept 2016 £292 £47.50

Our local MP, Philip Dunne was reported on the front page of last week’s Ludlow Advertiser saying that if young people can’t afford the bus fares, they should leave school and take part time work. This shows little knowledge of the economic geography of our county. It’s not easy for students in rural villages to find work locally and public transport in rural areas rarely suits those who need to get to work.

students_can_work_to_studyLudlow Advertiser 22 May 2014

There is no doubt that this fare hike will cause hardship. It’s another example of Shropshire Council’s lack of concern for the next generation.

It’s also another example of the council’s disregard for democracy. The decision to hike the fares has not been debated or approved by a council committee. It has been made by officers and cannot be scrutinised.

That’s wrong. Decisions that affect large numbers of people should be made in public committee and be subject to challenge.

Ludlow in poverty: If not the churches, who?

If it’s not the state – and national government and many local councils seem increasingly disinterested – if it’s not charities – and many are stretched beyond the limits of their resources – then who will take up the cause for those that are poor, jobless, old or infirm?

In Ludlow at least, that crusade is set to be taken up the churches.

Yesterday evening, as the first hard frost of the winter chilled the town’s historic streets, more than 200 people crowded into the Methodist Church. They were gathering to discuss a distressing report on the crisis facing many of Ludlow’s poorer and vulnerable residents.

Ludlow under Pressure: a report on urgent social needs” has been compiled over several months by Churches Together Around Ludlow (CTAL). It is a wakeup call for anyone so entranced by the town’s historic and natural beauty that they fail to see the poverty and daily struggle that so many of its residents face. The report challenges those people in the town that live in relative comfort to reach out to those in most need.

Earlier in the day, the Reverend John Edwards told BBC Radio Shropshire about a woman who was compelled to walk six miles into Ludlow to collect food because she could not afford the bus fare. It is a shocking tale. Demand for the food bank has soared as the gap between benefits and living costs has grown. Ludlow under Pressure reveals that food is just one small part of the rising problems of poverty and disadvantage.

The churches have identified four priority areas for action.

They say there is an urgent need to extend protection to older people at risk; those isolated, housebound, in fuel poverty or losing support due to cutbacks in services. The churches are proposing a day centre providing companionship, refreshment and support. They are also calling for a forum to speak up for the concerns and interests of older people.

Younger people aged 16-24, especially those struggling to find work and decent housing, are a second priority. A drop-in centre to help single people and parents towards training, work experience and employment is among the ideas. The churches are also calling for greater sympathy towards young people by adults, and for recognition of different lifestyles across generations.

Transport in this very rural area is scarce to non-existent for many residents. It is a problem that will get worse when the local hospital is moved to the far end of a business park on the edge of town. The churches’ shopping list here is long – extended routes, easy access buses, bus shelters and a community car scheme. The business park (bizarrely called an eco-park) is designed for car access. An expensive new footbridge will be needed over the A49 trunk road to connect it to housing areas.

Houses prices in the town are boosted by its beauty and the growing retirement population. They are out of reach for many people. Much of the rental housing fails the decent homes standard. There is almost no social housing for single young people. People in their 40s are unlikely ever to be socially housed. The impending introduction of universal credit scares everyone. There are serious doubts whether vulnerable people will cope. The churches say that a sustained campaign for greater housing justice is essential.

For me one of the most telling paragraphs in the report reads:

“We should not accept as inevitable the levels of anxiety and deprivation [experienced] here. Even in a time of financial constraints neither our community nor our country should tolerate them. It is simply not true to say there is no alternative.”

Churches Together Around Ludlow is aiming to create a volunteering community. The churches want to pull together local organisations “to do together what none of us can do on our own.”

It’s a big agenda. It is an essential agenda. If the churches don’t take this agenda on, then who else will?

This blog was first published on 24dash on 30 November 2012.