Disabled Barnet residents' Freedom Passes, cancelled by Capita - why?
Pic courtesy Times Series
What is it, about this borough, that so many stories that arise here become the focus of not only the local blogosphere, but so much national interest, and media attention?
Some days it is hard to walk down the street without bumping into yet another documentary film crew, or news team, in search of footage to illustrate the latest act of political extremism perpetrated by our lunatic Tory council.
Every day, it seems, another cockeyed pilot scheme comes to light that has been adopted by this administration, desperate as always, of course, to be seen as the flagship of Conservative policy, revelling in its own glory, only begetter (or so they would like us to believe) of the 'easycouncil' model of mass outsourcing, the hollowed out, commissioning council.
Here in Broken Barnet we residents are no better than rats in a cage, the objects of experimentation in social engineering, in an ideological laboratory for the latest new preoccupation: a pioneer of any new idea, as long as it is punitive, profitable, and bound to the ideals of Tory Barnet, a factory of dogma forged in the era of Thatcherism, still wheeled around the borough like the relics from an ancient cult, dying slowly on the edge of the known world.
Reflecting, as some of us were, the other night, on the stories that have emerged, over this period, from the MetPro scandal, to the current revelations of the failings of the massive Capita contract, it is hard to imagine anywhere else, in this country, that has produced an unceasing narrative of events so clearly defining the issues which are at the heart of our political landscape. The landscape of Broken Barnet is the story of Broken Britain, painted on a backdrop, for your entertainment. Take your seats.
Forget about all the other tales that have played out on this stage: the mass outsourcing of our public services; the lie that is 'regeneration', acted out in the annexation of the West Hendon estate, sold to developers for £3; a housing policy that introduces criteria of approval based on moral judgement, fast tracking for the deserving poor, but only for housing that can last no longer than five years; the commercial exploitation of even the dead citizens of Broken Barnet by the Crapitorial control of 'Easycrem', the former Hendon Cemetery.
Set aside the the constitutional amendment that censored any heretical reference by residents at local forums to any aspect of council 'policy'; the attempts to destroy our library service; the abandonment of responsibility for meals on wheels - or the shameful story of 'Your Choice Barnet', a business model dreamed up, at our expense, by business consultants, to make profit, as of course they felt they must, from the provision of care to vulnerable adults, which failed, and had to be bailed out by the local taxpayer.
If you recall, YCB's failure was then addressed by making savings: not from the inflated six figure salaries of senior officers, but by slashing the salary of already desperately low paid care workers by ten percent, justified by one of those privileged senior officers as being necessary because these workers needed to take 'a haircut'.
All of this, readers, fades into the background, for a while, at least, when we look now, on the eve of another election, here in London, at what is happening in Broken Barnet.
Today it was laid bare, the ugly truth that lies at the heart, if there is one, of Tory Barnet.
A story that has emerged, piece by piece, only by the courage of those families whose loved ones are being affected, but were too worried about the consequences to speak out: families of disabled residents in this borough, in this capital city, in 2016, whose mobility has been taken away from them not by disability itself, but by the public authority entrusted with the defence of their well being.
Yes: this is perhaps the most shocking story of all, or at least the one that best demonstrates the sickness that is eating away at the core of our public services, here in Tory Barnet: the story of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme.
For some time now, vital passes have been taken away, sometimes with no notice, from disabled and highly vulnerable adults and young people, whose right to travel free of charge is one protected in law, yet who have been subjected to a humiliating and distressing process, supposedly necessary in order to renew something to which they are entitled anyway until 2020.
In some cases, disabled residents have been summoned to ' assessments', to check their physical capacity. In a comment left yesterday on the previous post, one woman with mobility problems reports being called to a humiliating and distressing interview in which she was made to walk up stairs, and to a bus stop, watched by an 'assessor', presumably provided by Capita, but whose qualifications are unknown.
i feel very anxious and very down. If they take it from me, i wont be able to cope financially, as i can only carry a small bag of groceries at a time..certainly not enough to live. I cant afford all the bus fares, i cant walk to the shop to top up..frankly, im terrified. My son will have to give up his job to care for me. I hope i will get the chance to appeal. The letter said, if you get high rate mobility you didnt have to have an interview...but if you can walk to a bus stop..you dont get high rate mobility! Its a trick no one can qualify!!
In another case reported today in the local Times, Jenny Fairclough, a teenage pupil with autism - and other serious health problems - has been brave enough to describe the distress she has undergone since losing her pass - see photo above.
It is simply heart breaking to read about this hugely upsetting experience, and know it has happened to countless others, unable to speak out, now having lost their access to public transport, unless they can afford to pay full fares.
Why has this been happening?
The blame has been put on a change of criteria of eligibility by London Councils: not true, as the eligibility is statutory. The real reason is easy to guess: in order to create a pretext for removing some residents' right to a pass, and make savings as a result. Savings which may or may not result in reward for the private contractors overseeing the scheme: one of several aspects of this issue which must now be investigated.
Capita is administering this process, on behalf of the council. But they are not doing this on their own initiative, in secret, but with the approval of your Tory councillors.
You may think that there could be nothing more shameful than what they have done: and yet they had no sense of shame, until this matter was forced out into the open, by local bloggers, first the Barnet Eye, and now Mrs Angry.
Only once pressure was put on the council last week, was the process suspended, and a temporary stop to the spurious renewal scheme.
Yesterday Mrs Angry asked the authority's Monitoring Officer to investigate whether the scheme was in fact lawful, in principle and practice, and was not discriminatory: and now today, after a story in the local press, we hear words of contrition - now that they have been caught out - from a senior commissioning officer at Barnet Council, Jamie Blake
Do they really think we will believe this apparent apology 'for any distress' is sincere? 'Ensuring only the eligible can use them ...' As opposed to what?
Are you suggesting residents who originally received these passes because they had disabilities are now somehow recovered, and fraudulently using a travel pass?
The eligibility criteria have not changed, but Mr Blake perhaps may think that thousands of disabled residents have somehow become able bodied, whilst forgetting to inform the council.
Do they think we believe that the senior management of this council had no idea this process was taking place, and that enormous distress was being caused to so many residents and their families?
Who authorised it, then?
Either they knew, or Capita was acting without authority - which would be a very serious matter, another very serious matter, on top of all the other troublesome developments which this contract has recently seen.
But you will notice something else very interesting too. Not one Tory councillor has spoken publicly about this scandalous practice, now revealed for the shameful piece of exploitation that it is.
Oh: hang on, while writing this late at night, Mrs Angry has just heard from Cllr Sachin Rajput, who is the Tory lead on this matter:
There is a suspension now in place. As far as future renewals of passes or the issuing of new passes in the future is concerned, this will be the subject of policy review I understand.
Mrs Angry has pointed out that suspension should have taken place long ago, when concerns were first raised, and anyway such a policy should never have been sanctioned.
Rather than draw attention to elected members, just before an election, the council has taken put a senior officer in the firing line, and allowed the political culprits to maintain absolute silence.
In fact we know now, from several sources that at least some members and officers were perfectly aware of the Freedom Pass 'renewal' scheme, and the distress it was causing, and yet no action was taken to stop it.
Let us repeat the point: action is only being taken now because it has been dragged out into the public domain - on the eve of an election.
In the meanwhile, while some of the most vulnerable residents of Barnet have lost their vital travel passes, and wait to hear if the council may now graciously restore them - no mention of compensation for financial loss, incidentally - your Tory councillors continue to travel about the borough enjoying the free parking permits which they award themselves, so no need to worry about them, anyway.
Apparently the only eligibility criteria for this nice little perk is to be a Conservative member (Labour members refuse to take them) and an innate sense of entitlement. No renewal scheme required.
Well, in the morning, this morning, you have the opportunity to vote in the London elections.
The Tory candidate for Barnet and Camden is Daniel Thomas, who is also the Deputy Leader of Barnet Council.
He has refused to comment about the Freedom Pass scandal: but then his entire campaign - probably wisely - appears to have consisted of keeping as low a profile as possible, forming no opinions on any issue of importance, and not expressing the opinions he does not have.
The Labour candidate and current AM, Andrew Dismore, on the other hand, has written to Tory leader Cornelius, and has said:
"Disabled residents & their relatives have been “caused exceptional anxiety and distress ... There is now a pattern of systemic failure associated with the Capita contract.”
Dismore is now calling for an independent external inquiry into Capita, and options for cancelling the contract. He is absolutely right to do so. There is no other option now.
This week's last, worst, example of the Capitalisation of Broken Barnet has made that perfectly clear.
When you go to the polling station, please think very carefully about the options you have before you.
If you want to live in a capital city, in a borough, where, as we have seen all too acutely this week, profit comes before the interests of our most vulnerable residents, those who need housing, support, and care, then go right ahead, and vote for the Conservative candidates.
But if you still have hopes for a London where community, fairness, dignity, equality and justice have a chance of survival, you have only one choice: give your vote to a Labour Mayor and a Labour Assembly member - to Sadiq Khan, and to Andrew Dismore.