Thursday, 6 August 2009

Are free bus passes for over 60s under threat?

According to the independent Conservative website Conservative Home, the Tory Party should seriously consider scrapping free bus travel for the over 60s. They suggest that the subsidy is too costly.

Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers is quite right to say that many councils are not receiving the funding from Government that they need to pay for the scheme. Some authorities are having to pay over a third of their total budgets for this because the Government money (which is supposed to fund the entire cost) is simply not enough. And some councils (not always the same ones) are running a deficit of more than £1 million a year on this.

But will Ms Villiers commit to the long term funding of the programme and for a future Tory Government to subsidise it fully? No she will not.

I know that Conservative Home is not responsible for the comments of those who frequent the site, but there are lots of people who are suggesting that the scheme ought to be scrapped completely. One such commenter - Pink Tory - says that it is simply a subsidy for rich pensioners and should go. Marjorioe Baylis says it is a perk and that most younger pensioners are well off - with final salary schemes and owning their own homes outright. She suggests limiting the scheme to the genuinely poor.

That's just a flavour of the comments.

I know that there are very many older people in Cornwall who are incredibly hard up and rely on this sort of scheme in order to be able to to get to see their families. With bus companies scrapping routes (those which have mainly free bus pass users seem to be targetted) more and more pensioners are being trapped in their homes or villages.

The idea of restricting the scheme to the poorest may have merit in theory, but we know from other such restrictions that they are very bureaucratic and that many people - especially older people - are either too embarrassed or unwilling to fill in the forms. My guess is that most pensioners who are better off do not use the bus scheme or at least use it so little as to make targetting the help not worthwhile.

1 comment:

whitespeck said...

I am disabled and I am trapped in Letchworth because of the reduced bus services resulting from the free bus pass. There is now only one bus an hour between Baldock and Hitchin and Letchworth that I can use and I am far too sore to endure the waiting. I have only one bus an hour into the town centre. It was better with the half-price bus pass. I think that only those fit enough to plan for long journeys would benefit by this change. If the Government isn't paying for its free bus pass then it must be a con surely?