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Labour wants 600,000 to pay for buses

More than 600,000 children in England will lose their right to free school transport under new government proposals.

The draft School Transport Bill gives local councils the power to charge pupils using school buses. The Government also wants to charge 100,000 youngsters with special needs.

The suggested fee of pound;1 per journey would be a financial burden for many families, who would have to pay around pound;400 a year for each child who travels by bus.

Margaret Morrissey, from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Many working parents in rural areas, living just below the breadline, are not going to be able to afford this. It may be easier for parents with two or more children to buy a cheap car and drive their children to school. To tax and insure a car would cost the same as paying for two children to use the school bus. That seems to defeat the Government's objective of getting cars off the road."

Neither Karen Dunn nor her husband drives and they rely on the bus to take their son Jamie, who has special needs, to Deerswood school in Crawley, West Sussex. Mrs Dunn said: "The families of children with special needs are soft targets. The fact that children have to travel miles to attend a school with facilities to meet their needs is bad enough, but to charge them for the privilege is disgraceful.

"Our family is lucky, though. We have two full-time earners and will find the money if necessary, but a lot of people are not going to be able to afford an extra pound;400 per year." At the moment, children are entitled to free transport if they live more than three miles from school, or two miles if they are under eight years old.

Only those eligible for free school meals and milk will be able to get free home-school transport.

The figures were obtained by the Liberal Democrats in response to a series of parliamentary written questions to ministers.

The Government plans to pilot charges in 20 local authorities, starting in September. It claims that allowing authorities to charge will help them improve for bus journeys and make them more popular. Councils will only get permission to charge if they can prove that it will not increase car use.

UNFAIR FARES?

Numbers of children affected in each region:

South-east 128,210;

East 95,463;

South-west 85,681;

East Midlands 62,863;

North-west 62,490;

West Midlands 57,897;

Yorkshire and Humberside 51,863;

London 51,397;

North-east 22,466.

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