TfL are facing a financial crisis like never before and it is young people who will bear the brunt of it.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we collectively followed the government’s instruction to “stay home and save lives”, leading to a debilitating fall in revenue for the travel service.
Now, as an ill thought-out condition of the £1.6 billion bailout package from the UK government, free and discounted travel is being stripped away from thousands of young Londoners. The government must reconsider this move.
This fundamentally irresponsible decision will make the lives of young people across London far more difficult. Soon, before starting their journey to school or seeing friends, many will have to ask themselves: “Can I afford this?”.
London is often portrayed as a city of wealth, but the sheer levels of inequality that exist here are swept under the rug.
The capital has a staggering 39% of children living in poverty and faces a looming recession, comparable to that of the Great Depression. Despite this, the government is making our poorest families pay a minimum of £60 per child per month just for them to attend school.
The conditions of the government’s bailout proposals will create a financial barrier between thousands of young people and their education. This will have profound consequences for social mobility and equality in the capital, which will only serve to deepen the divide between the richest and poorest families.
Beyond that, thousands of the most poverty-stricken young people will now be forced to reconsider the financial viability of their education.
Throughout the last few weeks, as more people have become aware of this proposed change, social media has been set ablaze with personal accounts of how disruptive this would be.
Disadvantaged young people are now being forced to re-evaluate whether they can afford to travel to school; this is having a serious impact on both their mental health and their educational opportunities. Many have now been forced to relegate their academic dreams in favour of more economical options. They shouldn’t have to.
In addition, the growing mental health crisis will be exacerbated as many young people will become financially unable to attend external CAMHS appointments.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of mental health has been put in the spotlight; by taking away free travel for young people at this time the issue will only worsen.
The lockdown made youth loneliness far more apparent and by implementing these changes, many young people will have to cut down on how often they see their family and friends. This will only serve to inflame the mental health epidemic sweeping across the capital. It is paramount that we do not have barriers put in place between either our education or our mental health provision.
Moreover, the plan to refer these issues to local authorities, which are already overburdened, will resort to vital services for young people being neglected.
This change is set to cost local authorities up to £10 million when councils are, at present, starved of funding. This will simply cripple the already struggling provision young people rely on; these include: mental health services, street safety programmes and youth clubs, which have seen a £990 million cut in the last 10 years. These changes may be the final nail in the coffin for youth services – putting our vulnerable young people at risk.
Furthermore, suspension of free travel will make walking through dangerous areas unavoidable, thus exposing us young people to ever-increasing levels of crime.
Worryingly, the Met recorded an increase of 14,000 violent crime offences last year, emphasising the additional danger to young people. We should be creating safe havens for our young people, not forcing them into harm’s way.
On top of this, the tedious nature of determining eligibility for financial support has led to confusion amongst the poorest families in our society.
The “temporary” nature of these changes are just as unclear as we still don’t know how long they will last or even who they will affect.
For young people, considering long-term options such as schools and youth clubs they wish to attend, the ambiguity is extremely alarming. This will lead to thousands of young people falling through the gaps, widening inequalities that have become far too prominent during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the disastrous terms of the TfL bailout were announced, young people across the capital have continuously tried to make our voices heard. In the last week of May, we sent a letter, signed by 100 young people, to the Mayor of London, yet we have had no response since. Similarly, on 6 June, an additional 200 young people signed a letter sent to the Prime Minister, but this too has fallen on deaf ears.
Politicians, sheltered from the ramifications of such a change, have chosen to make this a party-political issue, which should not be the case when referring to the future of our community.
This change will intensify the economic deprivation caused by Covid-19, which has disproportionately affected the most disadvantaged in our society.
The government now has the opportunity to listen to the plights of young people by saving a lifeline which so many are dependent on. It is time to make things right.
Signed London Youth Parliament Members:
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.