Age UK London have been campaigning to protect older Londoners’ travel concessions, which include the Freedom Pass and 60+ Oyster card. New limits on when these concessions could be used and the threat of cuts meant there was a very real danger that these lifelines for so many people might disappear entirely.
The 60+ Oyster Card was under most threat and Age UK London are delighted that the Mayor has now committed to protecting this vital concession, which is available to Londoners aged between 60 and 66. Nothing is certain but this is the latest indication that the card will continue.
There has been considerable noise around the issue but it is actually quite rare for commentators to address it. This blog’s title was intended to be ‘a defence of the 60+ Oyster Card’ but in light of recent announcement, it might instead be called ‘six reasons why we are pleased the 60+ Oyster has been saved’.
1. Cutting the 60+ Oyster would have hit those on lower incomes and jobseekers hard
A large number of research reports have outlined the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on older Londoners. The experiences of the older Londoners who have contacted Age UK London suggest that unfortunately the pre-9am suspension is already exacerbating these impacts. 60+ Oyster Card holders have told us about their experiences and why they fear further cuts.
According to July 2020 figures from the Office of National Statistics, the number of people over 50 claiming out of work benefits in London has risen by 115% to 105,545 since January. Analysis of the same national data shows that (together with workers under 24) older people have been the hardest hit . This rise in unemployment affecting older workers in the capital is comparatively higher than the UK average and there are now more over-50 claimants for Jobseekers Allowance in London than under-25 claimants.
Recent research published by the Resolution Foundation shows that older workers have lost hours and pay disproportionately in comparison to workers in the majority of other age categories. According to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK’s oldest workers have seen their pay fall by an average of 23%, while younger (20-39) and middle-aged workers have been hit by salary cuts of 19% and 17% respectively.
The FCA also found that people born between 1946 and 1964 are just as likely as 20 to 39-year-olds to have been made redundant during the pandemic. The results of an IPSOS MORI poll for the Centre for Ageing Better show that seven out of ten 50-70 year olds do not feel confident that they will work again. Furthermore, only 39% of those who are currently furloughed (or of working age but not in work) are confident that they will be employed in the future.
Redundancy among older workers is not bringing forward plans to retire. Many older Londoners cannot afford to retire and this will have increased during the pandemic. Analysis by the Centre for Ageing Better shows that in England 8% of older workers are now planning to retire later. One factor influencing this is the decrease in the value of pensions.
In addition, the over 50’s age group already had worse unemployment outcomes prior to the pandemic. In 2019, just a third of over 50s made redundant found re-employment within three months: the lowest re-employment rate of any age group.
One in four workers aged 50 or over has been furloughed and 377,000 of them could lose their jobs. A quarter of a million over-50s could fall permanently out of work after being made redundant during the coronavirus pandemic because job schemes and recruitment are skewed in favour of younger workers.
Deborah, 60, who leaves home at 07:30am to get to work by 09:00 told us about the impact of the suspension so far and her fears that the 60+ Oyster Card could be cut:
“It has been absolutely dreadful already. It is now costing me an additional £42 per week to pay for a travel card. I’ve already had to cut back on food bills and there’s no way to get them down even further. I simply can’t afford to keep paying this money out.”
2. A cut would have made life even harder for older workers including keyworkers
Health and social care are among the sectors with the highest proportion of older workers. In recent months, Age UK London have heard from holders of the 60+ Oyster Card and the Freedom Pass working on the frontline of the pandemic who are required to be in work by 9am.
Retail and office administration (including receptionist jobs) are areas which see a higher proportion of older workers, particularly older women. Opening hours and shift patterns mean that commuting will often remain necessary in the early morning. Many older Londoners in this group are supporting partners with health conditions and some have even said that they will have to leave low-wage jobs because the cost of commuting takes up such a large proportion of their salary.
Although workers in their early 60s are receiving a salary, many will be in low-wage jobs and many will work part-time. One in four workers in their early 60s works part-time and one in three part-time workers lives below the poverty line. Data suggests that the economic impact of the pandemic was affecting older Londoners earlier than other age groups; with data analysis of a GLA survey from May showing older Londoners were more likely to say they are worse off financially compared to before the coronavirus outbreak than younger Londoners.
A large number of keyworkers contacting us had faced considerable risks to support the most vulnerable during the pandemic and have to travel to get to work in hospitals, medical centres and GP surgeries by 9am.
One keyworker that would usually use his 60+ Oyster Card to return home from his work at a supported accommodation unit for vulnerable adults told us:
“It felt like a kick in the teeth to find myself paying to go home after a 12-hour nightshift.”
Another 60+ Oyster Card holder told us:
“I still work full time in the NHS. The 60+ Oyster Card makes a tremendous difference to my finances and also the mode of travel. Since the restrictions on the use of the 60+ Oyster Card were introduced I have been forced to travel to work by bus rather than train, meaning that it takes substantially longer to get to work.”
3. The current early morning suspension is already impacting older carers that have to travel before 9am
Carer prevalence is greatest in the UK amongst adults in their 50’s and early 60’s. This age group is twice as likely to be carers as a younger adult group. The largest group of carers is working age older women. Many Londoners in their 60’s use public transport early in the morning to travel to older parents who they help to get out of bed, dress and have breakfast in the morning. One in four carers lives below the poverty line and the requirement to pay full fares will be having a detrimental impact on this group of Londoners.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of carers and the challenges they face when managing caring responsibilities with a job. According to figures from Carers UK, no fewer than one in five people aged 50-64 in the UK is a carer.
4. A cut would have made it harder for those that need to travel for medical appointments
Many older Londoners had their appointments for health conditions postponed during the first wave and some of them are still being pushed back in this 3rd lockdown. The delays are leaving people anxious and eager for appointments to be rearranged. These are still regularly arranged at 9:30am or even earlier. Journeys often need to be made to hospitals or health centres in different boroughs, require regular visits, and many older Londoners now have to pay full fares for these journeys. One Londoner told us:
“I need to attend various hospitals for a variety of conditions. This decision forces me now to apply for a Disabled Persons’ Freedom Pass, which seems an extraordinary waste of everyone’s time. My operation will require me to be at hospital at 7.30am and I shall not be able to drive.”
5. Cost can make travel inaccessible and exacerbates social isolation and loneliness
London’s isolation crisis didn’t start with COVID-19 and there is no vaccination for isolation or loneliness. Research published before the pandemic showed that there were 198,000 older Londoners that can go for up to a month without seeing a friend.
Isolation is complicated and it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. A range of factors put some at more risk than others. For the 44% of Londoners over-75 who live alone , accessible transport can bring vital opportunities for social connection. Even before the pandemic, more than one in ten people in this age group said they never use public transport and they don’t have a car.
The pandemic has seen increasing numbers of older Londoners feeling trapped at home. Since the start of the crisis, Age UK teams have consistently identified isolation as one of the top challenges facing older Londoners . Good transport should be a key tool in the battle against isolation but the fear of infection has had a huge impact on confidence to travel and older Londoners made up just 5% of the overall increase in TfL passenger numbers when measures were relaxed in the summer of 2020.
For many, shopping trips provide an opportunity to socialise but increasing anxiety, often exacerbated by confusing public messages, saw people decrease their trips to the shops during the first wave. Connecting with others and taking part in activities online has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic, particularly for those shielding. However, whilst 2020 saw an acceleration in the digital skills of many, people isolated and without digital access were left facing exclusion from opportunities to socialise online and other support.
One 60+ Oyster Card holder told us:
“I’m isolated and taken early retirement so with limited income. The 60+ card helps me get out and about, otherwise I feel my mental health would suffer.”
6. Charities across London rely on volunteers using their 60+ Oyster Card
Accessible and affordable transport helps enable London’s army of older volunteers who are crucial to many frontline charities (Londoners between 50 and 64 are more likely to be volunteers than in many other parts of England). Research has also found that BAME Londoners are more likely to have volunteered since March 2020 specifically to support the response to coronavirus compared with white Londoners.
One volunteer and holder of a 60+ Oyster Card told us:
“I travel to central London twice a week to volunteer at a homeless charity. If I had to pay my fare sadly I would definitely have to reduce my volunteer shifts.”
14. Age UK analysis (published 2018) of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) Wave 8. Figures extrapolated by Age UK to regional and national population using ONS Population Estimates 2017
15. Social Isolation Among Older Londoners, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2011. https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/34732/IPPR%20Social-isolation%20among%20Londoners.pdf/0a2b75b4-039d-4fb7-8c79-8afc5eddf18c
17. Age UK London, 2020.
19. ‘Socio-economic impact of Covid 19’, City Intelligence Unit, GLA October 2020