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Cuts to the Discretionary Freedom Pass

Added: 17 April 2012 | Updated: 19 April 2012

The Discretionary Freedom Pass is provided by councils to mental health service users. About 8,500 people in London have one, though eligibility criteria differ a great deal borough to borough.

Unlike the Older Person’s Freedom Pass and the Disabled Person’s Freedom Pass which are statutory, councils are not obliged to offer the Discretionary Freedom Pass. At present, in London, all but four boroughs (Camden, Barnet, Barking and Dagenham and Havering) offer it. However, of the remainder, fifteen provide a Discretionary Freedom Pass to less than thirty people in the borough.

But following council consultations, hundreds of people have had their Freedom Passes taken away.

Camden have deactivated all Discretionary Freedom Passes in the borough.

Harrow and Lambeth have both restricted the eligibility criteria for the discretionary Freedom Pass. In Lambeth, the number of people with a discretionary Freedom Pass has dropped from 767 to about 200 following the introduction of stricter criteria.

And in Harrow, people who hold a discretionary Freedom Pass are being called in for a reassessment under the new criteria.

In Redbridge, mental health service user group RunUp have spoken out at what they see as ‘stealth cuts’ aimed at reducing the number of people with a discretionary Freedom Pass (known in Redbridge as the Local Enhancement Scheme). In Redbridge, as discretionary passes have come up for renewal, the local authority have introduced a new, more complicated application form asking for several forms of documentation. Following assessment, many Freedom Passes were not renewed.

They have produced a report on Freedom Passes, recommending that the council, working together with local mental health service users, set up a clear and accountable system for allocating Discretionary Freedom Passes.

The report states:

‘Cancelling Freedom Passes may have the ‘unintended consequence’ of increasing social isolation which in turn impacts on both physical and mental health as mental health service users are severely limited in their ability to visit friends, volunteers, attend clubs and other activities that many of us take for granted. Indeed, the fact that many service users have low incomes and are not in paid employment means that transport is often a key means by which people are able to access voluntary work, education and social networks.”

Especially in a context of rising fares, the loss of the discretionary Freedom Pass means that mental health service users are able to get out the house less, leading to loneliness and depression. Health professionals always urge people with mental health issues to build social connections and get involved with their local community. The loss of the discretionary Freedom Pass will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the mental health of vulnerable people.

There’s a great deal of evidence that the cost of travel can be a barrier to recovery. These quotes are from a 2011 report on Mental Health and Public Transport from Derbyshire Mind:

‘There are so many barriers to leaving the house in terms of my own anxiety and psychosis, the fact that I no longer have to stress about costs means that I am finally attending appointments and schemes that are proving to help me in my recovery’

‘I have diurnal clinical depression and I find that getting out of the house and on a bus, meeting friends for coffee and support groups keeps me from sinking into something irreversible’.