A scheme offering free transport to people facing poverty and isolation is being trialled in north east Fife.
It follows research showing the stark realities facing many in areas associated with affluence, with more than one in four children living in poverty in St Andrews, where Golf Place has the highest average house price in Scotland.
In response to the study commissioned by North East Fife Welfare Reform and Anti-Poverty Group, 50 people will be given 10 day-tickets for bus travel.
Janice Laird, Fife Council’s community manager for north east Fife, said: “This will allow us to capture data showing any impact access to a free day rider ticket, a couple of times a month would have on individuals in terms of social inclusion, health and wellbeing, employability etc.”
The study found people in north east Fife are spending as much as a quarter of their income on transport.
It was found people on low incomes restricted visits to friends and families, leaving them vulnerable to isolation.
One person who gave feedback said it cost £3.50 to get to Anstruther for a job club as well as £8.20 to travel to Leven to sign on, with people on standard benefits receiving around £80 a week, or £70 for those under-25.
Ms Laird said: “Rural poverty is a real concern in this area.
“Several factors contribute to higher living costs here, including a shortage of affordable housing, older homes with higher fuel costs, expensive food with less access to discount supermarkets and the availability and costs of public transport.”
She added: “This research was designed to initially identify any issues and establish potential costs. We are now in the second stage of the research.
“Working with partners and a range of targeted groups we will issue a maximum of 10 day riders for up to 50 individuals participating in the research in the period up to March 2020.”
It has been mooted that people on Universal Credit could be offered free travel.
There are around 965 people on universal credit in the area and the cost of providing free travel would be in the region of £100,000. The option of offering a 50% discount has also been suggested. However, the funding for such a scheme is not yet in place.
Ms Laird said there is already a concessionary scheme in place operated by the Department for Work and Pensions, giving a 50% reduction in bus fares for people who had been unemployed for 13 weeks or more. She said there were plans to work with Stagecoach to increase the uptake of this scheme.
Liberal Democrat councillor Donal Lothian, who chairs North East Fife Area Committee, said: “It’s appropriate that we’re highlighting these issues during Challenge Poverty Week, when there is a spotlight on the work organisations are doing to tackle poverty across the country.
“Our aim as a council is putting fairness at the heart of everything we do by bringing together Fife’s communities, services and businesses to fight poverty and inequality.
“Working together with our partners we will continue to gather evidence to help us better understand the nature and extent of poverty in north east Fife and make a positive difference to people’s lives.”