We have heard a lot lately from various politicians about the need to examine the universal benefits received by older people and in particular the concessionary bus pass. It seems that in the age of austerity, even something that has been so successful and proved so popular, is subject to review.
But it is not just the threat from government to withdraw the bus pass from all but the poorest, there is also the threat to bus funding from the imminent spending review. Cuts to bus services will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.
Older and disabled people have hugely benefited from free bus travel and often rely on public transport to do their shopping, get to their GP and hospital appointments and visit friends.
But there is no point having a free pass if there are no buses to get on. Cutting bus routes leads to people losing their only independent access to transport. If you live in the countryside you will be doubly disadvantaged because poor bus provision in rural areas already causes isolation.
New polling carried out by Age UK has revealed that 93 per cent of older people who have a concessionary bus pass say losing it would have an adverse effect on their life. The polling is evidence of the vital role of concessionary bus passes and reliable bus services in enabling older people to remain independent and lead fulfilling lives as well as helping to prevent isolation and loneliness.
At the same time, Age UK is launching a new report that shows that older people in rural parts of England risk being stranded and isolated at home because of bus service cuts.
The study, ‘Missed Opportunities, the impact on older people of cuts to rural bus services’, examines in detail the needs of older bus users in rural parts of Durham and Northampton, regions that have been significantly affected by recent bus cuts.
It reveals the difficulties faced by those in rural areas with limited or non-existent bus services and the impact on their lives. Many older people are now forced to make a choice between paying for taxis to undertake cultural and social activities, and staying at home.
It is with this in mind that Age UK has called on the Government to recognise the many benefits of accessible public transport and the cost of problems caused by a lack of it.