‘Please don’t take our lifeline away’

Shireoaks Luncheon Club members protest against a 400% rise in Notts County Council transport costs  (w110416-2a)
Shireoaks Luncheon Club members protest against a 400% rise in Notts County Council transport costs (w110416-2a)
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ELDERLY members of a council-run luncheon club in Shireoaks say 400 per cent increases in transport costs could take away their “vital lifeline”.

Notts County Council has increased return fares from £1 to £5 – even for members with mobility problems who live just yards from the village hall.

Food costs have also risen from £3 to £3.95, meaning club users have to now pay £8.95 in total for each visit.

Ella Hodgkins, 90, of Prospect, has been going to the club for five years and said the news has “devastated” members who feel the club really helps the isolation of living alone.

“It’s good company and you can have a laugh and a joke – it means a lot to people,” she said.

“I think the prices increases are absolutely disgusting. We expected some increase but not that much.”

Ruth Gabbitass, 85, of Shireoaks, lives just minutes walk from the club and said £5 costs are simply “crippling”.

“I can’t walk because I have such bad arthritis and need the bus to take me there,” she said.

“This is going to make it much harder for people to come, which could put the club’s future in jeopardy. “

Lunchtime supervisor Jean Hodgkins said many members were housebound for weeks during the snow and value being able to get out to meet others.

“The club has been going for 31 years and it’s a lifeline for many of them,” she said.

“It’s their only communication they have with other people other than their carers.”

Labour county councillor Sybil Fielding has pledged £300 to the club to help with transport costs for the next few months.

“This is a shocking way to treat elderly people. It’s closing things by stealth - they aren’t closing the club down but they’re pricing it out of the market and making it impossible for members to keep paying,” she said.

Cabinet member for adult social care and health Coun Kevin Rostance said no-one wants to make life any tougher than necessary for older and vulnerable people.

“Charges for transport will be means tested and people who cannot afford to pay will not be charged,” he said.

“The fact is the county council has to confront an unprecedented financial reality and the only way we can do this is to work smarter and more cost-effectively.”

“This has to mean that we begin to recoup our costs, that we bring our charges into line with market rates and that we use the money we save to ensure we continue to deliver on our top priorities – caring for those in greatest need.”