Suzi Murning, Poverty Alliance Campaigns Officer, discusses our new campaign, Everyone Aboard, calling for free bus travel to be extended to everyone receiving Universal Credit and young people under 25.
We all rely on public services – like health and education – to be there for us when we need them. But too often, they simply don’t work for people living on low incomes. This is particularly true of our transport system, especially our public buses.
Buses are a vital link to education, employment, and services. They connect people to friends, family, green spaces, and help them play an active role in their communities.
So, it cannot be right that those who rely on our buses the most – people on low incomes, young people, women and single mothers – are too often held back from playing a full role in society, and from accessing their rights, because they cannot afford the cost of bus fares.
And the impact of this is profound. As people living on low incomes across Scotland have told us, it can mean making heart-breaking choices between paying an essential bill or visiting a loved one in hospital, between buying food or buying a bus ticket to a job interview. That people have to make these impossible choices is an injustice.
These choices are not new. Even before the pandemic too many people in Scotland were locked out of accessing vital opportunities. Incomes for the least well-off households have fallen while the cost of living has continually increased, including bus fares which rose 18% from 2014-2019.
Since the pandemic hit, it has been those groups who were already mostly likely to be living in the grip of poverty who have been hardest hit. Young people have disproportionately suffered job losses, pay cuts, disrupted education and a decline in mental health. Families with children have been swept into a rising tide of poverty, and people on low incomes from rural and remote areas in Scotland risk being more cut-off from opportunities than ever before.
But our transport system was designed, so it can be re-designed to work for everyone. Extending free bus travel to those receiving Universal Credit (and other low-income benefits) and under 25s is key to helping ease financial pressures on low-income households, unlocking opportunities, and in bringing us all back together.
The next Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament has the chance to build a Scotland for everyone, and to redesign our public services to help create the more just and greener Scotland that we all want to see.
To do this, bold action must be taken. Widening access to bus travel by removing financial barriers is the kind of ambitious, forward-thinking policy we need to build a Scotland where no one is left behind. On the road to recovery, we can make sure everyone has a seat, by extending free bus travel to everyone receiving Universal Credit and all young people under 25.
Suzi Murning is Campaigns Officer at The Poverty Alliance