Give learning disabled their lifeline back

Our message for the government: stop the bus, we want to get on with a pass, writes Jan Savage
For people with a learning difficulties, the lack of a bus pass is not just a financial issue. Picture: Justin SpittleFor people with a learning difficulties, the lack of a bus pass is not just a financial issue. Picture: Justin Spittle
For people with a learning difficulties, the lack of a bus pass is not just a financial issue. Picture: Justin Spittle

People who have learning disabilities are losing their bus pass and becoming increasingly isolated due to gaps in the National Concessionary Travel Scheme.

Enable Scotland launched its #stopthebus campaign in May to call on Scottish Government to make a difference for people with learning disabilities in Scotland. As it stands, disabled people who receive the lower rate of DLA have not qualified for a bus pass since the Scheme was nationalised in 2006.

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However, many people only found this out when they went to renew their travel card some years after this decision was made. This impacts on many people who have learning disabilities who rely on their bus pass to access transport. The National Bus Travel Concession Scheme provides more than financial support. It facilitates the accessibility of bus travel and the independence of people with learning disabilities. Having a bus pass removes the psychological barriers to independent travel; reduces the anxiety of having the correct change for a bus fare and increases confidence to make journeys independently.

For many people with learning disabilities, it is a lifeline – a bus pass to independent living. The Scottish Government’s current ten-year strategy to improve the quality of life for people with learning disabilities, the Keys to Life, states: “In order for people with learning disabilities to be truly independent, it is important that transport is accessible, affordable and available.” Concessionary travel is fundamental to delivering both affordable and accessible transport. Enable Scotland members such as Jacqueline Bonar told us how difficult the situation is just now. Jacqueline said: “I don’t travel anywhere new alone now. I have difficulty with numbers and money so I would panic if there were any disruptions on the journey and I had to change buses.

“Beforehand I knew I could go on any bus with my travel pass but now I would panic about how much it would cost and if I would have enough money. If I had my pass, I could get the bus into town when I want and I wouldn’t have to rely on my mum to pay me onto the bus. It would be my card to use when I wanted.”

We identified #stopthebus as a campaigning priority through our regular contact with members, who were increasingly telling us that many of them were losing entitlement to their bus pass when they came to renew, and were ending up with no way to travel independently.

Many of our members live in areas where buses are the only means of public transport, and without access to that service they are faced with social isolation. The Scottish Government has an opportunity here to make a real difference to the lives of people who have learning disabilities. We ask that they extend the eligibility criteria for the concessionary travel scheme to include those with the lower component of Disability Living Allowance. We are also asking the Scottish Government to refine the process for people with learning disabilities accessing the scheme via the non benefit-related route specifically designed for those who have mental health problems and learning disabilities. It is clear from our research that this route is not being consistently followed and people are losing out for no reason other than a lack of clarity. Since the launch in May, these messages seem to have been moving in the right direction, if you’ll pardon any pun. MSPs were quick to voice their support when the Enable Scotland campaign bus reached Holyrood on 23 June as part of Learning Disability Week.

MSPs have met our campaigners, and it is encouraging that Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay wants to discuss our concerns. We need to keep telling politicians at every opportunity what damage is being done to people’s lives without these cards. They really are a lifeline. Write to your MSP through our campaign and help make this vital change to the lives of people with learning disabilities.

• Jan Savage is Director of Campaigns and Social Affairs, Enable Scotland See