‘We now have a study teaching disadvantaged older people at senior centres to communicate with their doctors, for example, to prepare questions in advance of an appointment, or to take somebody along who can listen in case they don’t catch something. That way, they can advocate for themselves and not
just be passive healthcare consumers.’
Similarly she talks about her earlier assumptions that all people aspire to the same things, leading to her revisiting these and developing her theory of ‘person–environment fit’ - a model for understanding how living environments affect older people’s well-being. This is used extensively throughout gerontology and notably in the research undertaken by CABs members.
In the current blog put out by the Medical Sociology group of the BSA, Judith Green from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medical writes ‘Can we afford to abandon universal benefits’ discussing the threat to many different benefits in the UK. She discusses examples of hardship as a result of the changes in child benefit and also demonstrates the benefit to society in general as well as to older people specifically of bus passes:
‘Economic arguments that we can no longer afford this ‘luxury’ will not convince, unless they also cost in the losses to wellbeing from undercutting universalism. Our recent study on free bus passes for older citizens shows how the bus pass had wide ranging positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of older citizens. Providing not just access to vital goods and services, but also an indispensible ‘lifeline’ to social participation, bus passes were a way to get out and about and defend against loneliness, a real risk for health. A bus pass means you can take as many trips as you like, shopping around, visiting friends, getting exercise, meeting people, exchanging news and views, and benefiting psychologically from being part of the everyday spectacle of public life.
However, these benefits did not accrue from an individual having a subsided fare, but largely from the fact that ALL older citizens could use the buses. It was vital was that the bus pass was for everyone, and understood as an entitlement that had been earned as a right, not a charitable subsidy based on need. Using buses then becomes not just a mode of transport for the poor, or those unable to drive, or with no other options. It becomes the mode of choice, because you are likely to meet other people – and other people from a range of communities. This has tangible benefits for those using the bus pass, and importantly, because it is universal there is no stigma attached to its use. It has benefits for other bus users, keeping otherwise poorly used routes viable. Just as importantly, it has benefits for the whole population, in helping decouple ‘public transport’ from ‘low status’ transport, an absolutely essential precondition of weaning people off cars to develop more sustainable transport environments.’
The economic costs of means testing benefits go beyond those borne by the no-longer entitled, and are far more burdensome than those of administering the means testing. They are likely to include those difficult to calculate costs of the damage to the wellbeing of recipients of stigmatising benefit uptake. And, far into the future, they will include the incalculable costs to the public health of stepping back from our commitments to such public goods as the health of future generations, or the mobility and social life of older citizens *
One of the comments to Judith’s blog illustrates the advantages of bus passes facilitating free and accessible transport to older people en route to provide child care for their grandchildren (something I do myself using my ‘freedom pass’) . A bit of joined up thinking might be in order for the current ‘co-alition’ or should they be termed ‘colliding’ government.
’* Judith Green, Alasdair Jones and Helen Roberts (2013) More than A to B: the role of free bus travel forthe mobility and wellbeing of older citizens in London. Ageing and Society / FirstView Article / January 2013, pp 1 23. DOI: 10.1017/S0144686X12001110, Published online: 06 November 2012
Posted by Jeanne Katz