Campaigners have written to the council to urge it to reverse cuts to subsidised taxi journeys for disabled elderly people, fearing they will be “prisoners in their own homes”.
The Harrow Times has been inundated with calls from users of the Taxicard service and their relatives after it reported last week that elderly people who held a Freedom Pass for public transport or a disabled blue badge had had their number of taxi journeys cut by half – to 52 a year.
The service, which has 90,000 members across London, gives disabled people who have complex problems and struggle to use public transport a lifeline by paying for door-to-door taxi trips, but in April Harrow Council said it would have to cut subsidised trips after cuts in funding from umbrella body London Councils.
Pamela Stuckey, 73, who lives in the Boothman House sheltered housing scheme in Moorhouse Road, Queensbury, said many people who live there had nearly used all of their trips for the year and were worried how they would visit friends or go shopping when they ran out.
Ms Stuckey, who says many of the users affected are too frail to protest or campaign, has gathered signatures on a letter to the council urging them to follow the example of Richmond-upon-Thames Council, listen to residents, and reinstate 104 journeys a year.
She said: “They say we’ve got 52 journeys a year, but you use two up in each round trip, so it’s only 26 really – do they really think we only need 26 socialising trips a year? It’s an insult.
“The people here are all at their wits end because they’ve only got a few trips left. They’re not frivolous with it – they really eke out the journeys.
“Some of them have been using the service for 16 years and they are totally dependent on it – and to say they can use their Freedom Pass instead beggars belief really.
“Even if they got the bus to the shops there’s no way they could get on the bus home with all their shopping – they have real mobility problems.”
Richmond upon Thames Council took a similar approach to Harrow last year, but after an uproar from campaigners and research that showed that disabled people were leaving home less as a result of the changes, they reversed the limit of 54 journeys on those with a Freedom Pass or blue badge and reinstated it to 104.
Lianna Etkind, of campaign group Transport for All, said the service was a “lifeline” to older and disabled people.
She added: “Cutting the Taxicard allowance to just one return journey a week traps people in their homes, robbing many of their independence and social life.
“When people with reduced mobility are able to get out and about, we can spend on the high street, volunteer and participate in public life.
“We urge the council to consider the long term costs to the NHS and to social care budgets of condemning so many residents becoming isolated.
“Disabled and older people should have the right to be able to get out and about with the same freedom and independence as everyone else.”
Independent councillor Stanley Sheinwald said he would consider starting a petition to represent people affected and urged them to contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
He added: “These people can’t get buses because they’re not well enough – they will become prisoners in their own homes.
“It shouldn’t be cut because we are putting the most vulnerable people in a situation they can least afford.”
Last week the council said cutting journeys for those with Freedom Passes or blue badges was a “difficult decision” but was necessary to keep the service in operation.
It blamed receiving a smaller subsidy from Transport for London that other councils together with an ageing population increasing the pressure on the service for the cuts.