Just shy of two years ago, alongside the incredible VOICES Network and Maryhill Integration Network, I launched a campaign to extend the existing concessionary bus travel scheme to people seeking asylum in Scotland. On Saturday, it was announced that £2 million has been earmarked in the upcoming Scottish Budget to deliver the initiative.
It has been a long process to get this over the mark, but the policy will quickly transform the lives of asylum seekers when it is introduced.
Refugee Week Festival 2022
Asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable people in society having fled often horrendous situations. They arrive in Scotland seeking safety and security but are denied the ability to get a job and truly start their new life.
In the absence of a job, asylum seekers are afforded a mere £6 a day to cover all essentials, and for those housed in hotels, the allowance is just £1.36. This is a small sum of money but once you factor in the extortionate bus fares - £5 a day in Glasgow for an all-day ticket – asylum seekers are left with very little for food and other essentials.
Concessionary bus travel is a transformative social justice policy, it will improve the lives of those stuck in the dreadfully slow and inadequate asylum system presided over by the Conservative run-Home Office. It will mean those that seek asylum in Scotland do not need to choose between attending their various medical, social and legal appointments or putting food on the table.
To get to this significant juncture, the campaign has secured support across the third sector, asylum sector and civic society. Indeed, MIN Voices, the Scottish Refugee Council, JustRight Scotland, Grampian Regional Equality Council and Friends of Scottish Settlers, amongst others, supported the policy.
There has also been considerable cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament; I have been pleased to work with the SNP’s Bob Dorris MSP and the Scottish Green’s Mark Ruskell MSP to engage with the Scottish Government on the policy ask.
After securing commitment in the 2022/23 Programme for Government to work with the third sector partners and councils to consider how best to provide free bus travel, a 12-week trial took place earlier this year in Glasgow. However, there was no mention of a national rollout of free bus travel for asylum seekers in the 2023/24 Programme for Government, which came as a disappointment to those who have worked on this campaign for almost two years.
Yet the campaign continued to move forward. The policy received backing from the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee just last week. I also held a Members Business debate on free bus travel for asylum seekers in the Scottish Parliament on October 26, two days before the policy was given the green-light.
I look forward to the Scottish Budget being proposed to Parliament on December 19 and a swift timeframe for delivery being set out.
‘For such small change, it will make a huge difference.’
With members of the Voices Network and Maryhill Integration Network
ahead of the debate held in Parliament on 26 October 2023