ONLY people over 65 should receive free bus travel, a leading charity has concluded, to ensure more cash can be spent on other pensioners.
Age Scotland said the entitlement age should be increased from 60, saving the Scottish Government as much as £40 million a year.
The charity believes those savings could then be spent on local schemes, especially in rural areas, which provide tailored transport for elderly people who otherwise have no way of getting out.
The call was made at a session of Holyrood’s finance committee yesterday, as it studied the impact of massive demographic change in Scotland, and an ageing population.
Speakers from social services and housing associations said far more effort would be required to help elderly people remain at home, rather than be forced into hospital and residential care.
A Scottish Government “Change Fund”, designed to help reform public services, was praised for its intent, but critics said it was not delivering.
The programme was going in “the wrong direction”, one housing chief told MSPs. Others said that not enough money was being promised up front, with the result that necessary changes would not be pushed through.
The calls come with Labour leader Johann Lamont having sought a debate about the affordability of Scotland’s public services in the face of massive cutbacks due to the financial crisis, and extra demand due to the “greying” of the population.
Scottish ministers have pledged £500m over the next few years to back a new drive for “preventative spending”, with the aim of funding new ideas across the country to reduce the burden on the public purse.
At the same time, the Scottish Government is still paying for a raft of “free” public services, such as free concessionary bus travel for over 60s, free personal care and free tuition.
Callum Chomczuk, senior policy and parliamentary officer for Age Scotland, said that the amount of cash from the Change Fund going on preventative spending was “paltry”, and claimed that some of the money had instead been spent on publicly-funded communications officers in councils.
“We couldn’t see from a layman’s point of view how that was delivering a preventative outcome,” he said.
He called for more money to be spent on local travel schemes which take pensioners on shopping trips or on social activities.