Young people leaving care who are struggling to gain employment or visit friends and family should be provided with free bus travel, says Barnardo’s.
With free bus travel already provided to older and disabled people through the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme, Barnardo’s has launched its new Freedom for Transport campaign urging the Government to extend this support to all those leaving social care aged 18-25 in England.
Children growing up in care are three times less likely to be in education, employment, or training than other young people their age. And they are also prone to feeling cut off, lonely and isolated, with around a fifth (19%) reporting 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 over £18, this uses up a third (30%) of their weekly benefit payment in just one week.
In setting their fares, bus operators are also faced with the rising costs of fuel, energy, staff and supply chain costs and economics made worse by road congestion and fewer passengers travelling due to the pandemic, as well as the need for ongoing investment in electric buses and other customer improvements.
Barnardo’s says providing such a scheme for care leavers could help young people leaving care to access jobs and support more easily and help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The charity has been working with young people leaving or living in foster care and children’s homes to raise awareness of the issue and has launched a petition urging the public to press the Government for change, as part of measures to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
The campaign has the support of actor and award-winning writer Lennie James, who is the charity’s ambassador for children in and leaving care.
The actor, best known for his roles in Line of Duty and The Walking Dead, went into care aged 10, along with his older brother, when their mother died. Lennie and his brother spent time in a children’s home and were later fostered, growing up in Tooting, south London.
Lennie James said: “There are currently over 80,000 children in care in England and every year over 10,000 of them leave the system – and are expected to live more or less independently, when they are as young as 16.
“Living on your own can be lonely and isolating without the support of friends and family nearby, which is the reality for many of these young people. From rural areas to large cities, it can be even harder to get around if you are struggling to make ends meet.
“That is why I’m joining Barnardo’s to call on the Government to give all young people leaving care access to free bus passes.
“It’s a simple idea that could help them visit loved ones, get to a job interview or attend a hospital appointment without worrying about the cost.
“And I’d urge everyone to help Barnardo’s make this difference by signing the petition to add your voice to the campaign.”
Barnardo’s CEO Lynn Perry MBE said: “With the average cost of a weekly bus pass now over £18, getting to work or to a job interview can come at a cost that many young people leaving the care system simply cannot afford. When you are seeking to find your way in life, it can be really frustrating to have your horizons and independence limited by a lack of mobility.
“Without affordable travel, these young people often struggle to access work, education, healthcare, or any of the freedoms we all enjoy from a change of scene. That’s why we are calling on the Government to support and fund free bus travel for care leavers up to the age of 25. By doing so, we can help make sure care leavers have the best possible chance to build a brighter and positive future.”
Samuel, 18, a care leaver from Plymouth, said: “Some people in care have social anxiety, especially if they have had multiple care placements, it can be difficult for them to talk to people and ask for a ticket on the bus. Having a free bus pass would take a lot of stress off of your shoulders. You could just walk on and tap. The challenge of trying to work out how you are going to walk from a to b can also be really stressful. It’s the physical as well as financial stress. With the cost of everything going up, and the amount of appointments that you have as a care-experienced young person for things like college and seeing your support worker, doing this in a large city like Plymouth without a free bus pass can be really tough.”
Stagecoach, the UK’s biggest bus operator, is joining the campaign. Carla Stockton-Jones, UK Managing Director for Stagecoach, added: “We’re pleased to be joining Barnardo’s in this important campaign.
“At Stagecoach, we are committed to making public transport accessible and affordable for everyone. We already have some of the lowest average weekly bus fares across the UK, and our industry leading national jobseekers discounted travel initiative is helping jobseekers back on board and into work.
“Government can help build further on this by expanding concessionary travel to those other groups most in need, such as care leavers, supporting the drive to level up our communities.”