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Government must not break promise on Free Travel Scheme
Last updated on 16 Sep, 2015
Fianna Fáil will resist any attempt to cut the Free Travel Scheme.
I was disappointed to hear that the Government was considering restricting the Free Travel Scheme in the upcoming budget. Although the Minister for Social Protection has since backtracked, this has raised concerns about the Government’s commitment to the scheme.
Many older people were annoyed and worried this week when they opened the newspaper to find that the Free Travel Scheme was up for cuts. While it comes as some relief that Minister Joan Burton has since backtracked on the reports, people are concerned about whether or not they can trust these assurances.
It has become extremely difficult to trust the Government’s promises when it comes to supports for older people. We have seen a sustained attack on services for older people over the past four years, which has resulted in pensioners suffering average annual cuts totalling €1,200. The fuel allowance has been cut, free electricity and gas units have been reduced, the telephone allowance has been scrapped, prescription drug charges have been increased 5 fold, DIRT tax and motor tax have increased, the levy on private pension finds has hit retirement savings and there has been a dramatic cull of medical cards for the over-70s. That’s on top of new property taxes and water charges.
The final insult to older people is any suggestions of cuts to the Free Travel Scheme. The Government established a review of the scheme last year, which raised alarm bells with me at the time. There is no doubt in my mind that the media reports of cuts to the scheme earlier this week were a kite-flying exercise by government to test the ground ahead of the budget. It is very clear in my mind that these cuts were being actively considered.
Up to 1.2m people can currently access the Free Travel Scheme. It has been an enormous success since it was introduced by Fianna Fáil. Many older people use public transport on a daily or weekly basis and it allows them to stay active in their communities. There can be no attempt to limit their use of the scheme. This Government needs to start treating our older citizens with some decency and respect. They deserve nothing less.