Minister calls for free bus fares for young carers in rural Scotland

A Highland minister has called for the early implementation of free bus travel for young carers in rural Scotland.

Very Rev Dr Susan Brown said the policy would help provide much needed respite for youngsters who dedicate their lives without pay to looking after infirm and vulnerable family members.

The minister of Dornoch Cathedral in the Highlands spoke out after a new grant scheme for young carers opened on Monday, which amounts to £300 a year for successful applicants.

Young carers
Young carers carry responsibilities beyond those of most of their peers.

Dr Brown, who was Moderator of the General Assembly in 2018-19 and a director of a young carers support charity, welcomed the announcement to help ease the burden on young people.

But she said she feared that the cost of travel to towns and cities for people to go to the cinema or bowling would “eat into” the lump sum disproportionately and leave people in rural communities disadvantaged.

Dr Brown acknowledged that the Scottish Government announced two years ago that free bus travel for young carers could be introduced in 2020-21 if a pilot scheme is successful but said the scheme should be given higher priority.

The Young Carer Grant is available for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds who spend an average of 16 hours caring for someone who receives a disability benefit.

There are an estimated 44,000 young carers in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is investing £600,000 to support almost 2,000 young carers in 2019-20.

Very Rev Dr Susan Brown
Very Rev Dr Susan Brown addresses the General Assembly.

Dr Brown said: "The new grant is fantastic news and a welcome acknowledgement of the particular needs of a group of young people who carry responsibilities beyond those of most of their peers and for whom life can be far from easy.

"As a minister in the Highlands, and through my role as a director of The Young Karers East Sutherland (TYKEs), I recognise that there are particular issues that young carers within rural areas face.

“This grant acknowledges a little of the weight they bear.

"But for such young folk, a well-deserved night off at the cinema could see the grant being eaten away in bus fares alone.

“While I recognise that a pilot scheme to provide concessionary bus travel for young carers is tabled for 2020- 2021, this needs to be a priority if young carers in rural areas are not to be disproportionately disadvantaged.”

Fun and relaxation

Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, welcomed the Young Carers Grant.

“In the Bible, when speaking of young people, Jesus tells that there is something valuable in the state of childhood, in who young people are and in their ways of being in the world,” he said.

“In many respects we must safeguard the right of young carers to have the opportunities for fun and relaxation, to be children.

“We will work with the Scottish Government and others to ensure that young people, and particularly young carers, in Scotland are able to flourish, and the voices of those in rural communities are heard.”