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Transport is a huge issue for older people. Worries about mobility, independence, loneliness and isolation are all rooted in our ability to get around. Reliable and accessible public transport can do a lot to make the practicalities of getting older easier to deal with. Yet with funding under huge pressure, services are being lost and the most disadvantaged older people are being left without access to friends or to vital services.

By far the biggest step that Government has taken to address transport for older people is free bus travel. Introduced in 2008, the bus pass allows free use of all buses for all retired people. Nearly 10 million concessionary bus passes are now held in England alone. Each is used an average of over 100 times a year with pensioners on the lowest incomes the most likely to use their bus pass. Many regard it as essential for common journeys for shopping, to visit family and friends and to access healthcare.

This has big knock-on benefits. It contributes to a more active lifestyle among older people, with research finding that older people who used public transport had reduced likelihood of suffering weight problems. Free bus travel is also important to social well-being with research showing that older people felt that they had earned their bus pass and that using it made them feel part of everyday life and protected them against loneliness.

But despite its huge popularity and wide benefits, the £1bn bus pass scheme is under pressure. Many local authorities complain they do not receive enough money from central Government to cover the cost of free bus travel. Estimates suggest that by the end of this Parliament, local government funding will have been reduced by 43 per cent in just five years. One result is that bus services are being cut at an alarming rate and some authorities have called for free bus travel to be scrapped. Campaign for Better Transport research suggests that with so many services being lost there is a very real risk that whole networks could be under threat.

Many older people could find they have a bus pass, but no buses to use it on. The resulting loss of mobility and independence would affect large numbers of people. In the short term, there is a case for the Government to establish a fighting fund, to which local authorities can bid in order to retain services under immediate threat. Longer term financial support should be drawn from all central government departments whose objectives rely on decent bus networks, most notably the Department for Health.

What do you think needs to happen to make the UK the best country to grow older in?

What concerns you most about growing older and why?

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