The Freedom Pass enables free travel on public transport for pensioners and disabled people. For disabled people, the only requirements to qualify are about being a resident in the borough issuing the Pass and type of impairment (www.freedompass.org).
In April 2008, Mr Bey-Zekkoub who had had a Pass for six years, was refused it and told he was never entitled to one because of his asylum status. WinVisible – an unfunded women with disabilities’ group, together with accessible transport campaign group, Transport for All – protested to Lambeth against their withdrawal of the Pass, and found him legal representation. “We said it was illegal for Lambeth to operate their own immigration test on top of the existing rules, and accused the authority of racism and disability discrimination”, says Claire Glasman of Winvisible. Lambeth denied this, claiming “it was simply an error stemming from a misapplication of the law.” (Letter from Lambeth Council, 1 July 2008).
When first challenged, Lambeth had stood by their position regardless of the deprivation and suffering caused: “Unfortunately, Mr Zekkoub and others in his position do not have an entitlement…” (South London Press, 15 April 2008). Now they say it was an error.
After nearly three months of emails from Mr Bey-Zekkoub, WinVisible, legal letters and local press coverage, Lambeth Council finally sent Mr Bey-Zekkoub a written apology. They acknowledge that other people were also denied the Pass on the basis of immigration status and that this will now be “rectified”. How many people have been affected and for how long?
Mr Bey-Zekkoub was offered £100 for the weeks he was without his Pass – a derisory amount which does not make up for distress caused, and which he has not received. Other people in the same situation should also get this money, more if they were denied for longer.
Mr Bey-Zekkoub says: “The reason they named it the ‘Freedom’ Pass is because it offers a great amount of freedom to people with restricted mobility such as myself, and makes our daily lives easier. Without it I was housebound, isolated from my local community, and that only worsened my mental stability.
There are other people in a similar position like me in Lambeth who had their Freedom Passes robbed from them. This will have had a big impact in them carrying out basic activities for needs such as shopping or attending hospital appointments. I believe that the Freedom Pass gives them motivation and encourages them to live their lives to the full.”
Ms Iman Saab says: “I feel like I am imprisoned if I don’t have my bus pass. Every time I asked Lambeth, they told me: ‘We will have to see what the decision is, as you don’t have papers’, but they wouldn’t give me any proof in writing. It made me angry. When I got my Pass, I was so happy – I felt free.”
The All African Women’s Group says: “Asylum seekers, some who only have supermarket vouchers, have invisible disabilities – and are very ill with conditions that you need to go to hospital for, but don’t have the money to get there. Or to sign on at reporting centres, have to walk very long distances and many mothers have babies they have to carry with them. People who get vouchers can only shop at certain shops and often have to walk carrying heavy shopping back home including with young children. We are entitled to a Freedom Pass, especially when we are denied money.”
Lambeth Council must now publicise that disabled asylum seekers are entitled to the Freedom Pass. How many have been deprived of their entitlement? What other such “errors” in Social Services’ provision are causing hardship?