Stop the Bus – Some Want to Get Off!

Whenever I discuss Plaid Cymru’s policies (which I always do from a supportive, if sometimes critical, viewpoint) I can guarantee a defensive comment in support of Plaid Orthodoxy from Rhydian Fôn of Plaid Bontnewydd. I was quite shocked, therefore, to see Rhydian slapped down by one of his heroes this week.

Adam Price is peeved that Rhydian has suggested that the end of universal bus passes for the elderly might be a good idea. This puts me in a difficult position. I enjoy upsetting them both so much I don’t know who to support and who to oppose:-)

Logically I support Rhydian. Universal benefits always mean that those who have no need gain extras that they can well afford out of their own income.

During the Welsh Festival Season a regular thing that pisses me off is that rich pensioners get concessionary entry into Llangollen, the Royal Welsh and the Eisteddfod, but a hard working bloke on a minimum wage has to pay full price for himself, his wife and his 2.5 kids which often means that visiting these iconic festivals is well beyond the means of working class families.

Practically I agree with Adam. Means testing is bad! Unlike Rhydian or Adam I am old enough to remember means testing at its worst. The official from the social coming round to measure poverty in the most disgusting of ways. Your eldest daughter is over weight for a poor girl, your youngest is under weight – you don’t need help you need to balance portions more accurately! That was how means were tested forty odd years ago!

The problem with means testing, even in a less cruel world, isn’t with the people at the rich end of the scale – the millionaires who have free passes and prescriptions (which in all honesty they are unlikely to use) but on the borderline cases.

My grandfather paid into a superannuation fund which left his widow 6d a week too rich to get any state help for anything. My mother in law – just 15 years ago - was 50p a week too rich to get any state help because her late husband had a company pension paying half rates to his widow. So my grandfather and my father-in-law paid to make their widows poorer!

That is a means test trap that is bad for the economy. I will not risk paying into a pension fund that may put my widow into a similar situation. Because I won’t take that risk I put a greater burden on the state - my wife and I could both live to be 110 without a penny of self provision!

A guarantee of universal benefits for older people makes paying into a pension fund a worthwhile exercise, an exercise that will reduce the overall burden of age on the state!

Of course ideologically I disagree with both Adam and Rhydian. A strong capitalist Welsh economy would enable more Welsh pensioners to enjoy the riches of old age without the need for state intervention at all!


  1. rhydian fôn07/08/2009, 09:13

    I agree that there are risks with means tests - that is why we should have a progressive measure of means rather than a cut-off between full support and none.

    You say that a strong capitalist society would enable more Welsh pensioners to enjoy the riches of old age without state intervention. No capitalist society has managed this for all old people - that exclusion of some is what Adam and I agree is wrong. Capitalism is efficient at allocating prices some of the time - markets fail depressingly often, and state intervention is the only way to deal with that which protects the poorest. Hence socialism - the recognition that society is responsible for some issues.

  2. Why has he adopted such a silly, affected name? His name isn't Rhydian Fôn, it's Rhydian Jones, or Evans or Thomas or Davies, or something, but certainly not Fôn.

    Why do Welsh nationalists have to behave like pillocks? Don't they realise that's why people don't take them seriously?

  3. I love the irony of a contributor making a pillock of himself by criticising another person’s name under the pseudonym "Anonymous".

  4. Keith Graham07/08/2009, 20:05

    Don't follow that criticism, Alwyn. He has a fair point.

  5. It is not a fair point, it is a trolling point, made even more pathetic by the fact that the criticism is made by a person who refuses to use any name whatsoever.

    If it is so important to you Rhydian's given names are Rhydian Fôn and his family name is James, a fact that Mr James has never attempted to hide or disguise.

    Can we now please go back to the issues raised in the post?

  6. Rhydian, (or to please the trolls Mr James) the benefits system in the UK is already graduated to a certain extent. Income support, for example, enables people on low incomes to receive a minimum amount of money. If your income is £10 short of the minimum you will get £10 IS, if it is £160 short you will get IS of £160 etc. Tax credits work in a similar fashion.

    The problem with means tested “freebies” is that these graduated benefits also become access benefits. You can have free eye tests, free dental treatment, free prescriptions, free school meals, free bus passes etc if you have one of the graduated benefits. The reason for this is because it would be practically too difficult and extremely expensive to administer the add ons in a graduated way.

    You can have 11p off your school dinner, she can have 28p off, I can have the whole meal for free; Mrs Jones can have 20% off her bus fair between Bontnewydd and Caernarfon, Mr Williams can have 32% off and Mr James can have 87.32% off. It would be impossible to administer such a system.

    That is where the problem between means testing v universality lies. If you are dead on the graduated minimum income level from other sources, but I am 10p beneath them, I get all the add ons (worth much more than 10p) but you get sod all!

    Of course universality doesn’t, of necessity, mean that everybody has everything for free; it can mean that everybody pays some or part of the cost. So the £25 million saving that scrapping “free” bus passes would enable could be raised by charging £10 per year per card issued, for example. (I am not advocating doing so just using it as an example – I have a bus pass and want it to remain free).

  7. rhydian fôn08/08/2009, 11:31

    Alwyn: You have strong arguments there. I'll reply on my blog this weekend - Sweet and Tender Hooligan, and John Dixon have joined the debate too so I'll have a lot to discuss!

  8. Alwyn is correct to describe the difficulties and complexity of any 'benefit' system.

    Good stuff.

  9. Universal free bus travel ( I would would prefer trains myself) are a nice idea, however though as my Republican friends would ask, How would you pay for? Especially when the WAG gives local government pennies!!

  10. it does seem rather odd to be sitting on a bus in Cardiff and being just about the only person who's paid to take the journey. If we had to prioritise then I'd give free passes to young mothers before many OAPs.

    I actually think Alwyn's suggestion of a flat (OK, poll tax) of say £20 pa open to all OAPs etc could be the best and fairest option.

    On a more general note, if our estates and towns were built with density in mind - i.e. higher density then bus routes, shops etc would become more viable. Part of the problem is that many of our estates are so spread out that it's a 400m walk to your nearest bus stop and people decide to take the car making everthing less viable and our estates seem like cold and lonely places.