Free Bus Travel (Asylum Seekers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 4th May 2022.

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Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what discussions the social justice secretary has had with the transport minister regarding the possibility of extending free bus travel in Scotland to people seeking asylum. (S6O-01030)

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Asylum seekers in Scotland are already able to access the national free bus travel schemes for older and disabled people and, of course, for under-22s.

The Minister for Transport and I are keen that we do what we can to support all asylum seekers in Scotland, including by enabling them to access support and services on the same basis as other residents in Scotland. That includes providing free bus travel to other asylum seekers. We are doing that while needing to bear in mind UK Government reserved policy, which, unfortunately, restricts access to support.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

It is clear that free bus travel for under-22s has been transformative for hundreds of thousands of young people. However, the cost of living crisis will hit all those seeking asylum, especially given that they are forced to live on just over £40 a week and are banned from working.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that now is the time to take decisive and practical action to counter the hostile environment agenda that is pedalled by the Tories? Will she commit to meeting me and other interested parties to unpick, as she explained, the barriers to expanding free bus travel to all those seeking asylum in Scotland?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I am happy to meet Mark Ruskell to discuss the issue in more depth. He will be aware of the ending destitution together strategy, which sets out a clear approach to improving support for people with no recourse to public funds who are subject to restrictions. That includes people who are seeking asylum.

Scottish Government officials are investigating the case for providing free bus travel for asylum seekers who do not meet the criteria for existing schemes. I am happy to update Mark Ruskell in due course, either at the meeting or in writing.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary and the Minister for Transport for having met me to discuss the issue. Does she recognise that the policy would cost less than £400,000 a year? In terms of impact versus cost, the initiative would be extremely good. If there is such a hold-up, will the cabinet secretary give an indication of the timescale that we could face before the initiative is introduced? A lot of people in our community face destitution, which is a serious hardship, on a day-to-day basis.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I recognise Paul Sweeney’s interest in the issue. He has asked me a number of questions about it and has campaigned on it hard. When we met, we had a very constructive meeting.

As I said in my answer to Mark Ruskell, we are actively looking at what can be done. Obviously, we need to bear in mind the restrictions

regarding no recourse to public funds, but we are keen to do what we can around the issue of transport.

I know that one local authority has already made some progress in that area. Stirling Council has used some of its Home Office funding for supporting resettlement to buy bus passes for Syrian and Afghan families who are covered by the United Kingdom Government resettlement scheme, and I think that it is extending that support to Ukrainian refugees.

Officials are working on the issue, and I want to pick up the conversation more broadly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities once the new team is in place.

I am happy to keep Paul Sweeney appraised of progress, because I know that he has an active interest in the matter.

Photo of Jenni Minto Jenni Minto Scottish National Party

The recent crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine have put Scotland’s new Scots refugee integration strategy to the test. Can the cabinet secretary underline the ways in which the new Scots approach offers compassionate support and opportunities to displaced people, despite the scale of those challenges?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

The new Scots refugee integration strategy provides a clear framework for all those who work towards refugee integration in Scotland, with the key principle that integration begins from day 1 of arrival. It assists partners to make the best use of resources and expertise by promoting partnership approaches, joined-up working and early intervention.

The strategy provides a strong foundation on which to respond to challenges that refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people and communities across Scotland face, and it aims to support people to use and share their skills, culture and experience as they begin to rebuild their lives.