Labour-controlled Leeds City Council has decided to cut universal school transport provision for post-16 year old young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The cut will be implemented from this September. Unite Community is deeply concerned about this decision and urges the Council to reverse it in order to protect a very vulnerable group.
The Council says that only SEND students ‘with the most complex needs’ will be provided with a full transport service, while others will receive ‘travel training’ or help with transport costs such as taxi fares. But, parents say, most of those affected also have very complex needs and strongly disagree with the Council’s view. Parents also state that the mileage rate on offer will not cover the full cost of travel and that escorts will not be provided as at present. The alternatives, they believe, are wholly inadequate.
There is an appeals system for those dissatisfied with travel arrangements. However, parents feel that the system can be unfair as less than 24 hours’ notice of hearings was given in some cases. Those parents with legal support have also seemed to fare better at appeals than those without. Some dissatisfied parents are planning to take legal action against the City Council.
The cuts are also seen as divisive in that parents and their vulnerable children are now being treated differently. The same system of escorted travel as at present would overcome such distinctions.
Leeds City Council states that it consulted parents and children before taking the decision to cut transport. However, the idea of continuing to provide the existing service was not an option in the consultation document, so the validity of the Council’s approach to the process is open to question. Parents have also complained to Unite Community about the lack of any ‘meaningful’ consultation.
How will the cuts affect young people and parents?
The cuts to school transport will disrupt the routines and friendship networks of the young people concerned and will affect their education. It also puts further pressure on already over-stretched parents. Some even face the loss of their jobs or reductions in working hours as a result of the cut. Research undertaken by the charity, Contact, states that these concerns are common when customary school transport ends.
One parent says that her son functions at the level of a two-year old and has very complex needs. If the parent has to accompany her son to school, she will lose income up to the tune of £400 per month in reduced working hours or £900 per month if she is forced to give up work altogether.
Parents also rightly claim that their lives should not be entirely defined as carers of dependent young people but that they need work for the purposes of their own autonomy and development, as well for financial reasons.
The school transport decision is the latest in a number of cuts. These include a reduction in the amount of respite care available to parents and in the hours and pay for direct payment workers, who offer support to SEND students and their parents.
Unite Community, whose members include some of the parents affected by the cut, believes this is a decision which crosses a ‘red’ line as the group concerned is so vulnerable. While we acknowledge that the cuts stem from Tory and Lib Dem austerity measures under the Coalition Government, the overriding principle behind any review of services should be to protect the most vulnerable. This decision emphatically does not.
Unite Community involvement
Following the concerns of parents, a recent Unite Community Branch meeting passed a resolution opposing the transport cut. It was also agreed to send a copy to all Labour councillors on the City Council.
Councillor Lisa Mulherin, the lead councillor on this matter, has responded to the resolution stating that there are no plans to reconsider the decision. The cut is justified, she says, on the grounds that, in the present funding context, the Council has no statutory obligation to continue to fund school transport as at present for post-16 SEND students. Furthermore, the Council needs to look at what it does in order to continue to provide services which are statutory, states Councillor Mulherin.
We have responded to this position by making the following points but, to date, no response has been received, although we know of at least two Labour councillors and some Labour Council candidates who are deeply concerned about the cut:
- the Council may not have a statutory duty to provide transport but, parents argue, it has an ethical duty to do so given the vulnerability of their children;
- transport for the post-16 group has been provided in the past but will not be from September, but, surely, a need is a need is a need;
- some of the parents are traditional Labour voters and are now questioning their political loyalties;
- despite the cut, the Council will continue to have responsibility for the welfare of SEND students as they grow older but the cut does not reflect such a continuing commitment;
- parents may lose their jobs or have their hours cut and need work to lead a more balanced life;
- the parents concerned feel they are being targeted for cuts because they are not a very powerful group.
We hope Councillor Mulherin and members of the Labour Group will provide a response to these points raised by the parents and reverse the cut. In our view, a party so committed to social justice should give the highest priority to protecting the most vulnerable. Indeed, as Aneurin Bevan, the Labour politician who founded the NHS, once famously said: ‘The language of priorities is the religion of socialism’.
Support the campaign
We would ask anyone concerned about this cut to write to their councillors and MPs and to support the campaign as it develops over the weeks to come. It would also be useful if Unite Community members who are in the Labour Party could raise the matter in their local branches and constituency parties.
The parents have established a group, DEAL LEEDS, which has a Twitter account: https://twitter.com/DEAL_Leeds Any parent who is affected by the cut to transport can also contact the group at: DEAL.LEEDS@outlook.com
DEAL is also planning a demonstration against the cuts outside Leeds Town Hall from 12-2pm on Saturday 28th April. Please come along if you can and support the parents and their children.
Support for DEAL is steadily growing in strength and has already received some press and TV coverage. Unite Community stands full square behind DEAL on the issue of transport cuts and will continue to support its campaign.