Council Cuts Hit Merton's Mentally Ill

Freedom Passes to be withdrawn from some

Council cutbacks could mean up to 2,000 people with a mental illness in Merton will lose out on their complimentary Freedom Pass.

They are currently provided with the Freedom Pass, enabling them to travel around London at no charge, on a discretionary basis.

But from 2012, Labour-run Merton council plans to withdraw this discretionary benefit for the mentally ill to save around £100,000. Instead it will retain some funding to support people who need the pass as part of an agreed care programme.

Conservative Health Spokesman, Councillor Gilli Lewis-Lavender said: "We feel this is an ill-judged and short-sighted saving. Removing the Freedom Pass could easily increase feelings of isolation and discrimination among mentally ill people and diminish their quality of life. This is likely to make their illness even worse, and increase costs to the Council - and the NHS - in the longer term.

"We all know savings have to be made, but to target our most vulnerable residents in this way is wrong. We're asking the council to investigate instead how the costs of administering the Freedom Pass could be significantly reduced, so we can keep supporting those in our communities who most need our help."

Council Cabinet member for adult social care and health, Councillor Linda Kirby, said: "We appreciate that freedom passes help many residents stay mobile through access to free travel. Merton Council chose to go beyond the statutory scheme for many years but it can no longer afford to continue to do so.

"It's an unfortunate situation and we empathise with those who are affected by these changes but we have also chosen to earmark some funding for people with mental health issues that are most in need."

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February 1, 2011