Government should level up opportunities by making bus travel free for care leavers

Lynn Perry
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

At Barnardo’s, we know from our direct experience of supporting young people leaving the care system across the country that one of the greatest challenges they face at the moment is the high cost of transport.

Lynn Perry is chief executive of Barnardo’s  
Lynn Perry is chief executive of Barnardo’s  

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.

Living on your own can be difficult without the support of friends and family nearby, which is the reality for many of these young people. From our rural areas to large cities, it can be even harder to get around if you are struggling to make ends meet.

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 and isolated, with around a fifth (19 per cent) saying they feel lonely always or often. 

For these young people access to transport 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 per cent) of their weekly benefit payment. 

In setting their fares, bus operators are also faced with the rising costs of fuel, energy, staff and supply chain costs made worse by road congestion and fewer passengers using buses due to the pandemic, as well as the need for ongoing investment in electric buses and other customer improvements.

That’s why Barnardo’s has launched its new Transport For Freedom campaign, calling on the government to support and fund free bus travel for care experienced young people up to the age of 25 in England.

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.

By doing so, we can help make sure young people leaving care have the best possible chance to build a brighter and positive future.

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.

The recently published Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommends five ‘missions’ for care experienced young people which we should aim to achieve as a society over the next five years. These include ensuring that no young person leaves care without at least two loving relationships and an aim to double the proportion of care leavers attending university, by 2026.

Ensuring care experienced young people have adequate access to transport is key if we are to make progress with these missions. For many care experienced young people, travel can feel like a luxury. But it’s also essential. Buying and running a car is either very difficult or impossible, so many are heavily reliant on local buses.

Older and disabled people are already entitled to free bus travel through the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme. Given the clear benefits that providing free bus travel could have for care leavers including improving access to employment, services and reducing loneliness and isolation we believe there is a strong case for investment in a national scheme for care leavers.

Greater Manchester has already introduced free travel for care leavers up to 21 – but given the huge financial pressures on local authorities, Government backing is vital to extend this support to vulnerable young people in other parts of England as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda.

We are delighted to have the support of Stagecoach for our campaign. We know there is support throughout the bus and transport industry which is why we are also urging the public to sign the Barnardo’s petition. 

Lynn Perry MBE is chief executive of Barnardo’s  

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