Expert opinion: On your bike to sign on

Dr John Disney, transport expert and senior lecturer at Nottingham Business School, on the implications of the government's decision to require the long term unemployed to visit their local Job Centre on a daily basis.

The decision to require the long-term unemployed to visit their local Job Centre on a daily basis from Monday to Friday or face loss of benefits has serious implications for many people in rural areas. Most long-term unemployed persons will be unable to afford to run a car and are thus dependent upon public transport (usually the bus), cycling, walking or getting a lift.

Many councils have recently made major cuts to rural bus services (e.g. North Yorkshire, Somerset) or are in the process of doing so (for example, Cumbria and Worcestershire). This means many rural areas no longer have a daily bus service to their nearest market town; the service has either ceased totally or runs only on certain days.

Whilst the requirement to sign on at a Job Centre was fortnightly most claimants could use such bus services to do so or could arrange a lift if the fares were too high. However, a daily requirement means that most of an under 25's weekly allowance of £57.35 could be spent on bus fares to the Job Centre, sometimes around £10 per day, and this would also eat into the over 25's £72.40 allowance, assuming that a bus service exists.

Furthermore the poor frequencies now offered on these bus services means that rural claimants could also spend most of the day travelling to and from the Job Centre, leaving little time to apply for the employment on offer. Lifts are unlikely to be available on a daily basis whilst cycling or walking up to 20 miles each way is hardly feasible.

But what fate befalls those no longer on a daily bus route? This is through no fault of their own as the cuts being made to rural bus services were unforeseeable even two years ago. They have come about as a result of cuts in central government funding to local authorities combined with:

  • the growing cost of funding concessionary bus fares for the elderly and disabled
  • the higher bus operating costs
  • the reductions in the Bus Service Operators Grant from central government
  • many smaller rural bus companies simply ceasing to trade.

It is now imperative that the government acts to stem the flow of rural bus service cuts with a new Rural Bus Grant scheme. It's similar to that introduced in 2000 in that buses to transport the unemployed to job centres and interviews will be provided. There will also be a regular and reliable bus service, including evenings and weekends, to get those in employment, especially in low paid jobs with unsocial hours such as the tourism, hospitality and care sector, to and from work.

One penny's worth of fuel duty on each litre of petrol or diesel used by private cars in Great Britain would produce £200m to fund this scheme.

This could not only reverse the cuts imposed, but also lead to improved services through innovative schemes involving Community Interest Companies and other community-based schemes.

Dr John Disney
Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Business School

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Media Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.

    Dr John Disney is available for expert press comment on a variety of transport issues, including quality management; service quality; bus services; concessionary fares; road user charging; rural transport; train services; and the Workplace Parking Levy.

Expert opinion: On your bike to sign on

Published on 5 May 2014
  • Category: Press; Nottingham Business School

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