Thursday, 6 August 2009

Middle-class pensioners (will not) lose free travel

Logging on to Twitter this morning I was directed towards this typically scary story in the Daily Mail:

"Millions of middle-class pensioners face being stripped of their free bus passes. A report by town hall chiefs yesterday said too many people who own cars or can afford tickets are taking advantage of free travel.

It said spending £1billion a year of taxpayers' money on them was a waste and free bus passes should be only for the poor. It called for 'targeting' - or means-testing - to select those who deserve the privilege.

The report, commissioned and published by the Local Government Association, the umbrella body for councils, brought alarmed reactions from pensioner groups."

Seeing this as a big piece of news, I quickly retweeted it without first reading the LGA report for myself.

This was a mistake.

After spending about one minute delving into it, it soon became clear that the report was not drawn up 'by town hall chiefs' at all but by consultants Oxera.

And although Oxera do recommend means-testing for free bus passes in the report, the LGA explicitly rule it out in their response.

All of six pages in, the LGA spokesperson writes that

"This recommendation is problematic as it could suggest an end to the current national concession, which is a popular policy that benefits millions of people and is highly valued by councils and their communities. Means testing for concessionary fares is not the solution." (My emphasis)

Now there are parts of the Oxera report and the LGA's response that are worrying and the clear message is that bus subsidies are likely to be cut.

However, any attempt to means-test pensioners would be electoral suicide, and the Local Government Association must realise that as well as anyone.

-Update- The Daily Mail manage a second day of outrage about a story they made up themselves.


CH Paul said...

I still think the Tories will find some pretext to introduce means testing post-election. We haven't seen the last of this yet.

Anonymous said...

You are quite right it would be electoral suicide. More to the point, apart from the environmental arguments about reducing car usage, particularly in cities, many old people don't drive and often develop conditions that prevent them from driving. So do they want to keep them shut up in their own homes. Outside metropolitan areas it is often the only free thing people receive.

AdamB said...

Indeed, and as the LGA response points out, the costs both financial, and otherwise of implementing means-testing just wouldn't be worth it. It would be a political and bureaucratic nightmare, and ridership would undoubtedly fall.

Dave Cole said...

There's a letter to that effect from Jeremy Beecham of the LGA on Kerry McCarthy's website.

AdamB said...

Thanks Dave. I see the Guardian have reported it correctly as well.

Pretty blatant scaremongering from the Mail then.