Anti-poverty campaigners have called for action to make Scotland’s transport system more affordable, after a new report found that Scotland’s transport system is too often tightening the grip of poverty on people’s lives.
Conducted by the Poverty Alliance and commissioned by Transport Scotland, the report found that public transport was essential for people living on low incomes in terms of accessing employment, as well as vital services such as childcare and education. But the research – based on interviews and focus groups with parents, carers and young people from low-income families – also found that the cost of public transport was often prohibitive and causing social isolation. Parents across the study reported inability to afford transport resulted in a reduction on other household spending, which for some had resulted in food bank use.
It highlights how the unreliability, and, for many people, unavailability of public transport particularly impacts families with young children, children with health conditions and disabled children; as alternative travel options are often scarce or unsuitable. In addition, the limited space available for mobility aids, wheelchairs and prams means frequent travel challenges for families with children who have additional needs.
The report is launched at a time of growing hardship across Scotland, with over one million people – including around one in four children – living in the grip of poverty even before the Covid-19 pandemic. While the Scottish Government announced in March that free bus travel would be extended to all under-22s, the report adds to growing calls to go further.
In May, the Poverty Alliance coordinated an open letter to Scotland’s party leaders – signed by organisations including Disability Equality Scotland, Friends of the Earth, Scottish Youth Parliament and Barnardos Scotland – calling on them to support the call for an extension of free bus travel to all under-25s as well as everyone on low incomes benefits.
Peter Kelly, Director of Poverty Alliance said:
“These findings support what communities have been telling us for many years; that too many families in Scotland are locked into hardship because of our transport system. In the just and compassionate society we all want to live in, our public services should help secure a decent life for everyone. Yet as this report makes clear, right now our transport system is tightening rather than loosening the grip of poverty.
That is why action is needed now to address both the affordability and availability of public transport. There are a range of policy solutions that should be implemented, including – as participants in the research told us – widening access to free public transport for people on low incomes, as well as taking steps to better connect communities, particularly rural communities. We urge all of Scotland’s politicians to hear the voices in this report and to act, by re-designing our transport system so that it works for everyone.”