Monday 5 December 2011


The deputy prime minister has suggested getting rid of some universal pensioners' benefits and replacing them with means tested equivalents. Interesting ideas maybe, but fraught with difficulties.

One of the benefits he talks about is the over 60s bus pass, a scheme  administered separately in Scotland (with a better and more generous conditions). If things get really tough, it might be something for Mr Swinney to look into.

There are always problems with means testing. 

Firstly you have to rely on people being honest about their income and what they have in the bank. Not everyone does that, and checking it is difficult and expensive. 

Secondly you have to decide a cut-off point. And with a bus pass there can be no sliding scale of entitlement, as there is with some other entitlements. At some point you are entitled to the pass, and 1p a week more and you are not. That has the potential to create a lot of trouble.

And thirdly, there is the cost of staffing the administration of the scheme in every town. It might be done at the same time as Council Tax rebates, but these rebates come stop at a very low level. People well under the poverty line pay full council tax. The limit would have to be set higher. And what about the  people who do not pay council tax.

Be thankful you don't have to heat this: Oh wait, you do.
The advantages of the bus passes, at least in Scotland, are numerous. They give poorer pensioners the opportunity to get out of the house and meet friends or their families, something many of them would not be able to do if they had to pay the exorbitant fares of today's privatised and deregulated buses. 

Getting out of the house is a big boost to older people, many of whom live alone and don't get anything like enough exercise or company. And, as I've said before, it substantially reduces winter heating bills.

I've heard some better off people complain that it is a waste of money to give them these benefits. They don't need them. Unfortunately, that said, a lot of them just accept them.

So, I'm getting behind the SAGA campaign in appealing to people who get a bonus around Christmas to donate it to a charity that will help other people, not so fortunate, to pay their fuel bills this winter. And at the same time I'll appeal to rich pensioners not to use the free bus pass if they can afford the ticket. Every ticket issued costs the government (you and me) money. 

Finally, I'd suggest that we investigate the effects of raising the threshold of  these benefits which currently start at the age of 60, following the increase in the female pension age, and/or issuing them only to those who have actually retired. At the moment there are people going to work every day using their bus pass! If it saves substantial sums, maybe we should do that.


  1. It's a slippery slope removing bus passes from wealthier pensioners.
    If the wealthy think that they have no stake in society and that despite earning their bus passes and the like they get nothing back then they may decide not to participate in society like in Greece and Italy. People have no faith in the systems over there and pay nothing in as they get nothing out at the end of it.
    Tax avoidance becomes more popular because the wealthy see their benefits accrued scrapped.
    Why engage with a society that fails to meet it's side of the deal ?

  2. The bus pass is not automatically issued you have to apply for it and supply a photo, so what does this say about people who can afford to pay their bus fare but choose not to? I don't think appealing to their better nature will be fruitful somehow

  3. I take that point Monty.

    The people at the very top aren't part of the society anyway. They have their money in the British Virgin Islands or Jersey or Gibraltar.

    Then you have the people at the bottom who don't recognise any part of the world in which the rest of us live. Drugs and crime take over their lives.

    I suppose we have to try to keep the middle in the game.

  4. Well, I suppose, Anon, in that case what I meant was that they shouldn't apply for it. (Although it is more than just a bus pass in some places. You use it for the library and a host of other council things; entry to the leisure centres, paying council tax, etc. It's almost an identity card by the back door, but at least it costs nothing.)

    What I'm saying is that if you can afford to pay for stuff, don't berate the government about it being available to all, just don't avail yourself of bargains that you don't need.

    Take your £250 to a local old folks home; pay your bus fare even if you have the card, give the money for the tv licence that you get free when you are over 75 to some poor soul of 70 who can't afford to pay it.

    I suspect that if they are prodded into doing that, some folk will happily comply. There's a lot of good out there, you know. People sometimes just need reminding. that's why I'm backing the SAGA campaign.

    That said there are some people who will take, take, take, no matter how much they have. And others are encouraged to do so by their families, so that there will be all the more left for them.

  5. Love this bus stop comedy from 'Still Game'....

  6. When I posted the original of this, my computer crashed so I must assume that it has disappeared into the ethers.

    Here goes again..

    Mrs Libby Battenberg pays less per unit of electricity she uses, if she pays at all, than 82 year old Mrs McFlannel, pensioner of this Parish of Freezing Scotland, because of the entry tax into the Natioanal Grid in Scotland subsidises London.

  7. Good one Monty...

    I've met a few like Martin in the course of my work.

    I like this one about the neds.

    (For foreign readers a "ned" is the Scottish equivelent of a chav. "ned" = non educated delinquent.)

  8. Yes Wolfie, and Mrs McFlannel may well use a prepay meter so that she "knows where she is".

    Alternatively, because she has such a small income and no history of having a bank account, she may have either a Post Office account, or a basic bank account, neither of which supports direct debits.

    So, in either of these cases, she pays a premium.

    In your case its a slap in the face for Scotland, and in mine it's a slap in the face to poor people.

    Poor Scottish people just get slapped and slapped.

  9. "Finally, I'd suggest that we investigate the effects of raising the threshold of these benefits which currently start at the age of 60, following the increase in the female pension age, and/or issuing them only to those who have actually retired."

    In England this is already happening. Bus passes are issued when you reach the State Pension age for a woman.

    Is this yet another example of Barnett letting Scots enjoy better benefits?

  10. Dear Anon

    You evidently have an objection to Barnett Consequentials and the Scots enjoying better benefits than the English?

    I suppose that devolution is about setting different priorities which are deemed more appropriate for Scotland.

    I agree that Barnett should be done away with and Scotland should just stand on its own feet.

    We should simply separate, we keep our money and you can keep yours. We'll even chuck in a few Trident submarines and nuclear missiles.

    If we are such a damn drain on England why do all 3 parties want to hold on to us?

    You should really be addressing your Government as to why you haven't the same bounty as we sponging jocks?

    We can still be friends after Independence though?

  11. Dear Lupus Incomitatus,

    I have no quarrel with devolution. I am all for Scots setting the priorities for Scotland.

    I do puzzle over the long list of areas where Scotland ends up with better services than England - eg care fees, tuition fees, prescription charges and now I learn free bus passes.

    Can you help me and point to areas where allocation of more spending to those areas leaves it worse off in others?

    Yours analytically


  12. ANON

    I am afraid that the debate is way beyond your point of outrage, that we Scots are living off the hog, of Mother England. That debate has gone.

    Nurse your analytical outrage as you will but it is passé in Scotland.

    We are now putting form to the frame of what Scotland will be like post independence not worrying about how done to the English feel themselves to be.

    Get rid of Westminster and the cabal of career politicians, with their nuclear toys and illegal wars and you should be able to redirect your democracy back to something that will make you feel less envious.

    Smaller nations tend to be more efficient at using their resources and wealth.

  13. No anon,

    rather it is the careful attentions of a finance secretary who knows what he is doing, and who doesn't waste money on nonsense.

    Scotland gets more per head than England as a whole, but not more than certain regions of England, which is how it as seen in finance terms.

    The reason that it gets slightly more than the average is its size, rather than population. The islands and the vast tracts of the Highlands mean higher costs per person for providing services.

    London ironically, given Boris the Buffoon's comments, gets more than Scotland because of all the speciality things it has to do like house the Queen and her dysfunctional family, and all the embassies and diplomats and ministries and heaven all knows what else.

    You should wish for a finance secretary as good as John.

  14. That's a good anwer Wolfie.

    They should demand of their government that they get rid of us. Or take back what extra they think we get extra. But they should be careful what part of England they set us against, because they may find that they are paying us even more.

    We want an end to Barnet. We want an end to being a region of England, with the 'Bank of England' and the 'Queen of England' and 'Anglo America' relations...and speaking English, not British...

    We are nothing. Just a rather cold wet county somewhere in the north of England (with lots of oil) a bit like Alaska is to the USA...except that Alaska has an oil fund, and we have diddly squat.