Thursday, 17 February 2011

What do you think?

I thought it was time we exercised our brains again.As usual the Times has given me a lead in to today's subject matter and I would very much like to have your opinion.

In the UK at present every person over sixty is eligible for a bus pass, which means he or she can travel free on the bus. I don't have one because I live too far from a bus route, but many of my friends have them and use them regularly. One friend, now sadly moved away, (miss you B), used to travel up to see us coming the twenty five miles or so by bus for free. Another friend went with three of her friends for a few days in B and B at our Yorkshire coast, travelling all the way by bus and changing - they had fun planning the route and had a lovely little break at the sea.

Now with the advent of David Cameron's 'Big Society' and the round of huge government cuts it looks likely that many places will lose this bus service. If you stand in our local market square and watch people getting off the bus to visit our Friday market you will see that most of them are over sixty, which means that most of them have travelled free. How does the bus company keep going, you may ask.The answer is that it is heavily subsidised by the County Council - and this of course is why it may be cut because County Councils are having to make drastic cuts in their services.

Now - here is my dilemma. Were I to be on a bus route then I could well afford the bus fare and would willingly pay it if I wished to travel anywhere. Most of my friends would be in the same position because most of us are in that lucky group who retired when pensions were good enough to live on and although interest rates have often drastically cut our incomes, we are still by no means on the breadline.

But there are many who use the service who could not afford to pay. So what do we do?

My mother was born in 1890 and all her life she spoke with terror about ending up in The Workhouse - a very real threat when her parents were alive - and both she and my father were also very afraid of means testing as a way of deciding who gets what in the way of financial help. To my mother falling below the means test level was such a disgrace. Luckily they never did - they prospered, brought up three children and we all did well too, thanks to the start in life which they gave us.

So - what is the answer as far as the free bus pass is concerned? If it is scrapped then the buses could not afford to run the service. Often there are only half a dozen people on the bus. If bus passes are means tested does this mean we are going back to the bad old days when society was divided into 'us' and 'them' (or indeed is it like that already?), does the same situation apply to our libraries, also in threat of closure (only the richer can afford to BUY their books).

Marie Antoinette's 'Let them eat cake' is a phrase which springs to mind when thinking about the way some of the coming cuts are going to bite into incomes of some people, yet I know cuts of some kind have to be made. It is a dilemma on which I hope you can express an opinion.

##On an entirely different subject (you know now that I have a butterfly brain) - while typing this I have watched a blackbird landing on my clothes line, watched it land, wobble, spread out its tail and its wings to get its balance, wobble a bit less, steady itself and eventually be still enough to break into song. And it struck me how frustrating it must have been over the centuries for inventive minds to watch this bird behaviour and not be able to figure out how to build something which could get into the air.

Fog rules again today after yesterday's sunshine.

To my readers who are not bloggers (you know who you are) please send me your opinion by e mail(if you have an opinion) so that I can get an overall view of what people think - then I will do another blog on it.

26 comments:

NanU said...

I don't think that means testing is going back to the 'bad old days'. I think it's only right and fair that people who can afford to pay, or to pay partially, should do so. No service is free - if the individual getting the service isn't paying, it's all of us taxpayers.
Embarrassement at coming in under the means threshold is an image we need to change for retired and disabled people who cannot change their situation.

Heather said...

I have a bus pass but seldom use it and would be happy to pay for my bus fares. I don't really need one, yet receive it. We could also manage quite well without the winter fuel payment. How to give help where needed without any loss of dignity is the problem. For years governments have been handing out free help wholesale, whether the recipients needed it or not, which must be a contributing fact to the current state of affairs. It is also too easy for some to abuse our benefits system, further draining our coffers and probably making it more difficult for some in real need to get the help they deserve.

Elisabeth said...

I think it is fair to means test, as long as the means by which the tests are applied is fair.

I do not think it is fair that people who can afford to pay fares get public transport free. I think such privileges ought to be preserved for those who cannot afford them, but who are also beyond affording them, such as the significantly aged and the chronically unemployed.

Thanks, Pat for raising this issue, much in need of thought.

Tom Stephenson said...

Who was that Mayfair Lady aristocrat that said, "Anyone seen riding on public transport after the age of 30 may be considered a failure in life" ?

'First Bus' dominate the private bus companies around here (the M.D. lives in the Royal Crescent), and they are a bunch of b*******s anyway, who cut services for elderly people if they make no money despite local government subsidies, and they've been doing that for years. There is a 'Community Bus Service' started up, but I don't know how it is funded.

All the wealthy over 60s I know apply for a bus-pass anyway, just because they can, and even though they own cars.

The Solitary Walker said...

I don't think means testing is the right approach at all. Apart from the loss of dignity, where would it all end? Wouldn't it signify an end to the free, humanitarian, democratic social services that Britain has been so proud of since setting up the Welfare State? My own opinion is that healthcare, schooling, public libraries and, yes, even rural bus services (for the over 60s) should be free for everyone. (Call me an old socialist, anyone, if you wish!) Despite all the economic problems, we are still one of the richest countries in the world. If we can afford to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, we can afford to help our older people and to keep rural communities alive. Perhaps those who are well-off, and really want to contribute, can choose to give up their bus pass and pay the full fare voluntarily?

dinesh chandra said...

Hi Good post.

Regards

Dinesh Chandra

MorningAJ said...

I'd just be glad to have a bus service that was any use.

It takes an hour and a half to get to my place of work from home if I catch the bus (19 miles). And the times they run mean that, in order to use the bus for work, I have to leave the house at around 6.50am and get back around 7.15 pm. And that's with flexi-time.

I had to turn down a job last year because it was fixed 9 - 5 so I'd have missed the 5.25 (it wasn't in the city centre and I'd not have had chance to get out of the office and get to the bus station). The next one isn't till 6.25 so I'd have got home just after 8pm.

So I drive.

steven said...

weaver raise the taxes on gasoline powered vehicles and divert the funds to support public transit and human-powered, or alternate energy fueled vehicles. steven

George said...

I'm going to have to put ditto marks under the comments of Robert, The Solitary Walker. I, too, am comfortable with being called a "socialist" if that is appropriate for people who believe that education, health care, an economic safety net, and public transportation should be available to all citizens, especially in advanced, highly prosperous nations like the UK and the USA.

Marianne said...

I'm with The Solitary Walker on this. There are still many people with your parents' attitude - and they are the ones who slip through the net when things are means tested. Rather than worry about people receiving what they don't need (how many people actually donate their winter fuel allowance to charity for older people?), how about sparing a thought for the millions saved in unclaimed benefits - which also means the people not getting benefits to which they are entitled and which they need?
Once you have means testing you have people on the borderline who are not deemed eligible.
Means testing actually increases the cost of benefits to the taxpayer because it increases administrative costs (ok, and provides some jobs).
Personally, I have a bus pass which I don't use because the bus times are not convenient and it is not valid in England (I'm in Wales). so I can get into Bristol free to visit my children but the cost of crossing the city by bus is more than my petrol costs and the Severn bridge toll. daft.

Pondside said...

There are many freebies that come at age 65 here but which will disappear as the Baby Boomers reach that age. Free ferry travel on weekdays is one that I'd like!
Means testing isn't the answer. Somehow subsidies should be linked to income tax filing - rebates could be given to those who have an income below a certain amount and no rebate to others. Everyone could pay their way, with no stigma.

The Bug said...

I'm not really qualified to offer an opinion (I sort of feel like NanU & Heather, but since I'm in the U.S. I don't count), but I would like to say that I think raising the age might be a good thing. Well, again, I don't know about retirement there. Here we mostly don't retire until we're in our mid to late 60s (& if we retire earlier it's usually because we can afford to). I wonder if raising the age to 65 would have any economic impact?

Jo said...
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Jo said...

I side with The Solitary Walker philosophically, and Steven practically speaking.

It can be done...providing services to those who need them in a reasonable, cost-effective way.

As an American living in this age of entrenched politics, I ask myself constantly, "Why must it be one way or another? Why can't we educated, creative, entreprenurial civilizations fine the way to do both?"

Gerry Snape said...

Well there's an article on this very subject today in the Times and it set me thinking about this as well. I could afford the fare, but I know some who can't. So if I pay and she doesn't, does that not mean that she puts herself into a different catagory ,if you know what I mean. And as you say then are we back in "them and us" as your parents and mine were always wary of.Perhaps if those who can, just quietly pay, then the whole thing will sort itself out. I do think that the days of expecting something for nothing are long gone, if they were ever really valid anyway.

jeanette from everton terrace said...

I also feel I cannot weigh in as I live in the US, in a city with almost no real public transporation. Our current battle over here in this regard is about health care. I am probably in the minority of your US readers as I like my private health care and wish we were spending the time, energy and money on education reform instead.

Rachel said...

Nothing is free. If the bus pass is free and the bus company is getting a subsidy from the local council then don't forget that somebody is paying and that somebody is us. When that council tax charge keeps going up and up and you start to worry about how you are going to afford it. That's where your money goes. Get real. Hi everybody.

Rare Lesser Spotted said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rare Lesser Spotted said...

My work life always dictated that I remain firmly apolitical to the public. Now I am free to say what I think. The previous Government's transport policy was a joke albeit on occasion well intended. This Government doesn't actually care on the effect of their wide ranging cuts and will blame councils (as they always do) for cutting subsidies in areas where the public desperately need services, like councils really have a choice for the next four years. I wholly support bus passes (I'm not ready for one yet) and I wholly support the provision of a rural bus service. If the bus companies (here in East Yorkshire and Hull) were more discriminating and stopped putting buses on every ten minutes in the city and urban areas, the vast majority of which are are virtually empty, and moved to smaller more economical buses, they could afford, with appropriate if reduced subsidies, to support rural communities that could otherwise leave families and individuals stranded and isolated.

angryparsnip said...

Like your bus pass problem here is just one problem my family had to deal with....

My Mother who worked and paid taxes and Social Security all of her life was denied health care when even living at at poverty level she made one hundred dollars a year too much to get full Medi-Care but if an Mexican citizen living illegally in Arizona just happens to be in Tucson when she has her baby... she gets free health care, food stamps, aid to dependent children plus citizenship for the baby. And my Mother had to pay to see a doctor even with some Medi Care benefits ? ? ?
Plus the children of illegal parents can apply to go to University for free in California and New Mexico. I wonder how the children of legalized parents feel about not getting the same break. This shows that we in America reward law breakers and we who follow the laws get to pay the bills.

I think an accounting of where our tax money goes and what programs are being truly used is important.

We need to really look at where our tax dollars are going and who is benefiting.

Golden West said...

Usually when the government steps back from services, private enterprise fills the void, not only more efficiently, but more cost effectively, as well. Jobs are created, competition is fostered and consumers benefit from greater choice and better service from employees whose job security hinges on their willingness to do their jobs well and pleasantly. I am a huge fan of capitalism, as a rising tide lifts all boats.

Orange Bear said...

It's not just the OAPs losing their free transport - think of the 160,000+ local authority jobs that are going - all the people with morgages, car loans and families who are going to lose more than everything because of this government. Its not about trees, library books and bus passes - its about people and their livelihoods. It's bad enough losing a bus pass - but the bloke who drove the bus might lose his house.

If its the fault of all those OAPs (and bus drivers) for selling all those sub prime morgages and awarding themselves outragous million pound bad weather bonuses, then scrap the bus services and the bus passes. I don't think it is. The rich got us into this mess - and they can afford to get us out of it, and still be rich. So I don't see why the ordinary people of this country should have to do without anything. In fact its time they stuck up for themselves, took to the streets and demanded not only an end to the cuts but better working conditions, public transport, healthcare, etc.

Orange Bear said...

And, while I'm at it, why not make public transport free at the point of delivery for everyone? (And opticians and dentists while we're at it).

Dave King said...

I've been thinking about this question, too - not because it affects me personally, for it doesn't, we have not applied for bus passes - but because it seems to me to put the whole issue of the big society to the test. In it, I suppose, we - the community - ought to be organising lifts for those who have lost out on their free rides.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting comments. This is going to take some sorting out and I have a busy weekend, so it will have to wait until next week - but thank you for contributing to the debate.

Fotografia Digital said...

Very wonderful images!!!