I know that the new, tougher restrictions are hard. We are all very well aware of the social harms of social isolation and loneliness, which we have spoken about a lot this afternoon. That is why, as part of our £100 million winter funding package, we have invested nearly £6 million in promoting equality and tackling social isolation and loneliness. That includes £4.3 million of additional funding for our connecting Scotland programme specifically to get an additional 5,000 older and disabled people online, as well as funding for befriending helplines. For example, Age Scotland’s helpline, which has now received more than £1 million since the start of the pandemic, has been expanded to meet that need.
As I am sure the minister will confirm, there are particular dangers of loneliness among people who do not have access to a car and who live in rural areas, where public transport is limited at the best of times and might now be non-existent. What is being done to reach out to people who find themselves in that specific situation?
As part of our £5.91 million winter support package, Befriending Networks Scotland has been awarded £100,000 for a scheme to award small grants of up to £5,000 to tackle loneliness and isolation. Grants will be balanced across rural and urban locations, as well as age groups and other specific groups. We are well aware of the rural aspect.
We know from the Scottish household survey that people in the 16 to 24 age group are most likely to report experiences of isolation and loneliness, and our evidence base suggests that some groups within that group can be at particular risk, such as young mums. That is why we have funded YouthLink Scotland, which already has a role in distributing grant funding to a range of youth work organisations that work on the ground, by providing it with £150,000 to administer a grant scheme to help young people across Scotland—including those in rural and island communities—to get the support that they need to communicate.