Age Scotland says only people over 65 should receive free bus travel

Picture: Donald MacLeod
Picture: Donald MacLeod
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ONLY people aged over should 65 should receive free bus travel, a leading charity has concluded, in order to ensure more cash can be spent helping other pensioners.

• Age Scotland says the move from 60 to over 65 would save the Government £40m a year

• Age Scotland suggest the saving could be spent on other local transport schemes.

Age Scotland said that the entitlement should be increased from 60 years of age, saving the Government as much as £40m 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 this morning, as it studies the impact of massive demographic change in Scotland, and an ageing population.

Speakers from social services and housing associations said far more efforts would be required to help elderly people remain at home, rather than be forced into hospital and residential care.

So-called “preventative” efforts were so far going in “the wrong direction”, one housing chief told MSPs.

However, witnesses also warned that the impact of UK Government welfare reforms would also have an “absolutely staggering” impact on the country, with billions taken out of peoples’ pockets. They said that, if Scotland wanted to continue to fund services at their current levels, politicians needed to push the case for higher taxes in order to pay for it.

The calls come with Labour leader Johann Lamont having called for a national debate about the affordability of Scotland’s public services in the face of massive cutbacks in spending due to the financial crisis, and extra demand piled on by the “greying” of the population.

Ministers have allocated tens of millions of pounds to a new “Change Fund”, designed to fund new ideas across the country to reduce the burden on the public purse.

However, there was criticism of the way the scheme was being rolled out. 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 lay man’s point of view we couldn’t see 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, thereby helping them remain at home.

“We think if you are going to widen the scope of the scheme then I think it is appropriate to look at the eligible age of the Concessional travel scheme.”

Raising it to 65 would save £40m, he said, which - if spent on targetted community travel schemes “could make a huge difference”.

Other witnesses also said more money could be spent on changing services.

Mike Brown, of the Association of Directors of Social Work Resources said: “Unless we can find ways of freeing up more (money) for prevention is it going to be difficult to meet all our aspirations for the kind of services we would like to see for both older and people and ohters such as people below the age of 65 who have disabilities.”

David Ogilvie Policy Manager, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said his members were unable to access cash to help improve homes for elderly people, which would help them remain there.