“I can’t get out on my own, I feel like I’m locked in"
Cuts to public transport leave West Berkshire residents feeling isolated
FIVE months on from the savage cuts to public services imposed by West Berkshire Council, the consequences on those affected are starting to emerge.
Kevin Hallcup lost his free bus pass following the brutal cuts to the district’s public transport system and says his confidence and precious independence have now been taken away.
The 55-year-old, who has learning difficulties and dyslexia, had been able to travel into Newbury or Reading, from his Calcot home.
However, following the council’s decision to withdraw free bus passes for those with mental health issues, Mr Hallcup says he has spiralled into depression, feeling trapped in his bungalow.
With just one friend to rely on to take him out, Mr Hallcup says he does not have anywhere to turn.
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News, he said: “They [West Berkshire Council] just don’t seem to care. I don’t want to have to stay in my bungalow 24/7.
“I can’t get out on my own, I feel like I’m locked in.
“I used look forward to getting on the bus and going into Newbury or Reading. I knew where I was going.
“I’ve got a rail pass which is paid for me, but my friend, Derek, is worried that I’ll go somewhere and not know where I am.
“I don’t want to burden Derek too much because he’s got his own life.
“It’s taken all my confidence away.
Mr Hallcup’s friend and helper, Derek Norton, has accompanied him to consultations with West Berkshire Council and his doctor to see if he qualifies for a free pass on other grounds, without success.
“At one point they said it looked good for him, but then they just said he doesn’t qualify,” said Mr Norton, 66.
“The reason they say he can’t have a pass is because he apparently should be able to drive.
“He can’t tell left from right; he’d never be able to pass a driving test.
“He’s in such despair and just despondent. He’s been referred to social services by his doctor because he’s feeling so low.”
Earlier this year, the council came under fire from action groups who claimed the local authority was discriminating against people with mental health issues by removing their entitlement to a free bus pass.
In total, the local authority cut £780,000 from the public transport budget, which also saw a number of bus services reduced or stopped altogether.
During the public consultation on the swingeing cuts in March, West Berkshire Council admitted the decision could lead to “reduced life opportunities and a reduced quality of life” for those affected.
However, the council defended its decision, saying it was “satisfied that it has complied fully with its legal obligations under the Equalities Act 2010 in reaching the decision that it did”.
West Berkshire Council spokesman Martin Dunscombe added: “Our transport team will do what they can to help those who apply for our concessionary fares scheme.
“Where people no longer qualify under mental health grounds, the team will look at whether they might qualify on other grounds, such as the medication preventing them from obtaining a driving licence.
“The changes introduced earlier this year only affected discretionary elements of the scheme and we continue to implement the National Concessionary Travel Scheme in accordance with our statutory obligations.”