Last week I was put to the test by the Fareham Area Active Blind, a local support group for people who have lost some or all of their sight. Its members range in age from young people to pensioners.
We spent quite a lot of time talking about the choices we need to make to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely in supporting an ageing population and people with disabilities.
This theme about choices ran through a debate ranging from changes to Disability Living Allowance to the fate of the 35 bus route from Stubbington to Fareham (a lifeline for many older people).
No-one would disagree that the £12bn we spend on the Disability Living Allowance should be targeted at those who need the most help to live independently. No-one would disagree that we must have a better, clearer and more transparent assessment of that need.
But we discussed how you get there. That’s why the government is working closely with independent experts, disabled groups and people with disabilities to draw up the criteria for the new assessment.
We also had a discussion about juggling taxpayers’ money and how you get the biggest bang for your buck. This was triggered by the exercise that Hampshire County Council has just gone through to ensure that people receiving care are making a fair contribution towards the cost of those services.
The alternative would be to cut the level of services to the point where no contribution was needed. This involves difficult judgments.
It’s particularly a problem when you decide how much to spend in different areas. For example, how do you weigh up decisions such as spending more on care for an ageing population, or paying more to bus companies to keep services going?
None of the areas we talked about was easy. But the challenge is to make sure we keep on talking about these challenges on spending and services with those who use them today, as well as thinking ahead to future generations.