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Author: Age NI
Published on 05 March 2012 03:00 PM

Age NI entered into a debate on radio recently which generated huge amounts of conversation, discussion and reaction to the issue of free transport in Northern Ireland for older people.

Age NI works with and for older people, and always has and always will take their lead on the issues that matter. The message from older people who responded to the media coverage of this issue is clear – ‘hands off free transport!’ Immediately upon hearing the voice of older people the DUP issued a statement saying, ‘We remain committed to the scheme and there are no plans to change it in any way’.

Let’s be clear – Age NI campaigned long and hard in partnership with many others for 10 years so that older people in Northern Ireland could have access to free transport. More than half of older people say that loneliness is a major issue. Many live on the fringes of our communities and we should be doing more to combat their isolation, not taking away their means to play a more fulfilling role in society. Age NI believes that access to free transport is central to the social inclusion and wellbeing of people in later life.

In the absence of an alternative to means-testing which costs more to deliver; which is despised by older people; and which is thoroughly unsupported by Age NI, we believe in the universal winter fuel payment and free transport. Age NI has loudly and consistently said that means-testing does not work. £1.2 - £2.3 million in Pension Credit goes unclaimed in NI every week…what more evidence is needed to demonstrate that means-testing is inefficient and ineffective?

A think tank in England has recently claimed that free bus travel should be taken away from older people as part of a £15 billion package of savings designed to stimulate the economy. A Social Market Foundation (SMF) report claimed that the travel passes scheme added little to the economy and should be a low priority for the Government. This report is available to download at the following location www.smf.co.uk/research

We know that many older people were concerned by Age NI’s decision to support a debate on the issue of free transport. The fact is, in this current economic climate, the issue of free transport would always be at risk of debate, as is clear from the SMF report. It was our fear that this could be imposed without consultation. However, with the confidence of our campaign for free transport behind us, and the knowledge that the voice of older people would be heard, loud, strong and clear, the outcome of this debate is a strong reassurance for older people – a public message from the DUP that free transport for older people is safe.

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575