i Editor's Letter: This week's "big idea"


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The Independent Online

Curious word: think-tank; makes one wonder at its etymology.

Joe Gunner sitting in his turret might not have too much thinking time other than: "get him, before he gets me!" Not much better thinking takes place in a think-tank than a Challenger tank, is your withering response to the Social Market Foundation's "big idea" this week.

We'll ignore for a moment the £2.4bn the SMF suggests could be saved through means-testing child benefit; let's gloss over the £1bn it claims could be saved by banning people from having more than £15,000 in tax-free ISAs – a horribly cruel idea. Instead, we'll focus on bus passes. The SMF has "think-tanked" that pensioners should lose the right to free bus passes as the £1bn cost of the scheme "does nothing to help the economy". Their words.

You do not need to be old to see what a bonkers explanation that is – even if you had sympathy with the idea itself on the grounds that not all over-60s are poor.

The elderly would be left virtual prisoners at home if the scheme were axed. A single cash fare on a London bus is £2.30 (£4.60 return) – in rural areas where the distances are longer, it is a lot more than this. It is a financial non-starter.

This makes a huge difference to those using that bus pass to go shopping, or to the cinema, or the pub or a Starbucks, and spending money – let alone those who need to get to a doctor. Has the SMF not heard of the Silver Economy? Not read about ageing populations? This is not even to mention safety aspects of keeping some elderly would-be drivers off-road. We are not even discussing the issues that the resulting lack of mobility would cause in the realm of health and depression.

I have a bigger problem with the think-tank's so-called ideas. They are so entirely out of touch with so many people's present reality and society's future needs that I question the point of publishing them – other than to scare us all. This time, I don't need to ask what you think. See you tomorrow.