Speaking of the Telegraph, the latest salvo in Iain Duncan Smith’s bombardment of the benefits system is directed at free bus passes and TV licences for pensioners. I’ve made general arguments for universal benefits before, but I’d like to add another reason for defending bus passes for pensioners. The structure of benefits for people with disabilities currently makes a distinction between people above and below the age of 65. Below the age of 65, Disability Living Allowance has two components: care, and mobility. Above the age of 65, there is only Attendance Allowance, which has no mobility component. In other words, support for mobility is substantially removed at the age of 65. The same distinction will continue to apply after the introduction of Personal Independence Payment.
From previouses censuses of disability, it’s possible to say that roughly two thirds of people with mobility difficulties are older people. We have two options. We can try to remove the kind of unfairness which means that someone who has a stroke at age 63 is treated much more favourably than someone who has a stroke at 66. There’s a very strong case case for doing that, but it would involve a complex, selective assessment of millions of people, and it could be staggeringly expensive. Or we can try more generally to offer practical support with mobility for a very large number of people. That is most effectively done with public transport. If we continue to suspend personalised support at 65, then from 65 up we have to offer generalised support. All right, it’s not ideal, and it’s not enough, but it has to be better than offering nothing.