Barnardo’s has called on Transport Minister Richard Holden to introduce free bus passes for all care leavers in England during a visit to Cornwall.
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport heard about the success of a recent pilot scheme in Cornwall which saw care experienced young people benefit from free travel for a year, allowing them easier access to education, employment and social opportunities.
Barnardo’s worked in partnership with local charity Carefree, who work with care experienced young people, Cornwall Council and a local bus operator to trial the scheme which was inspired by the views of young people themselves.
Barnardo’s used lessons from the pilot to launch its Transport for Freedom campaign, calling for free bus travel for all England’s care leavers aged 18 to 25, in a scheme similar to what is currently in place for elderly and disabled people.
Children growing up in care are three times less likely to be in education, employment, or training than other young people their age. They are also prone to feeling cut off, lonely and isolated, with almost one in five saying they felt lonely always or often.
Access to transport for these young people is often unaffordable. Single young people under 25 years old are only eligible for the Under 25 Universal Credit rates and, with the average cost of a weekly bus ticket more than £18, this uses up a third (30%) of their weekly benefit payment.
Barnardo’s Director of Children’s Services, Hugh Sherriffe, explained to the Minister what a difference free travel can make.
He said: “Leaving care is a very challenging time and having access to free travel can have a positive and powerful impact on so many areas of young people’s lives, helping them to take up opportunities that might otherwise have been denied them.
“Young people involved in the pilot scheme said how it gave them freedom to visit friends and family, helping them overcome the loneliness many care-experienced young people feel.
“It also empowered them to be able to take up employment and education opportunities, made it easier for them to attend medical appointments and allowed them more choice in where to shop for food.
“That’s why Barnardo’s are calling on the Government to introduce free bus travel for all care leavers up to the age of 25. We currently have a postcode lottery where access to free or subsidised travel depends on where care leavers live in England.
“We are very encouraged that the Minister agreed to meet us to hear from young people themselves just what a difference free travel would make.”
The Minister said: “It’s fantastic to see how the close partnership between Barnardo’s and Carefree has helped drive forward our vision for a more inclusive transport network that care leavers and those who need it most can rely on.”
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