Image caption Blair Anderson says his relationship with his parents broke down when he came out as gay

Law student Blair Anderson is "estranged" from his family, which means he has cut all ties and does not get the financial and emotional support most parents provide.

Blair says his relationship with them hit the rocks when he came out as gay at the age of 14 but it "completely broke down" when he was at university.

The 21-year-old says the stress of trying to support himself led to him dropping out of his course last year.

There are now calls for estranged students to be entitled to the same support as those who have experienced the care system.

Blair, from Kilsyth in North Lanarkshire, told BBC Scotland's The Nine: "I'm from a religious family and when I came out as gay I was told that wasn't an option.

"I was told that my parents would not have a gay son so I would either be straight or not be their son."

He says he "remained closeted" for the next four years while he was in school.

"I had to live a horrible double life," he says.

Image caption Blair is studying law at Glasgow University

When he went to study law at Glasgow University he wanted to sever all ties with his family but discovered their income was taken into account when assessing his student loan, leaving him with about £3,000 less than an independent student.

He says: "It is very difficult because the whole system is based on the assumption that your parents will help out."

Blair says he was working in two part-time jobs but could not make ends meet.

"I was in rent arrears, I was stealing food from work, I could not afford to live really and the stress of all that combined with all of the stress of being at university meant I had to drop out in January 2019."

Blair was entitled to extra funding from SAAS - the Scottish Government agency which provides students with financial support but he says he found it difficult to prove he was estranged.

He says the online form would not let him claim "estrangement" status and he had to phone up SAAS, who he says were "completely insensitive".

After he had dropped out, SAAS eventually recognised Blair as being estranged and he got extra funding to resume his studies.

What is estrangement?

Students who are under 25 can apply for "estrangement" status if there is a permanent breakdown in their relationship with their parents or guardian.

This means they will be exempt from their parents' income being taken into account when working out how much funding, such as student loans, they are allowed.

SAAS says all cases are assessed individually but it would expect there to have been no contact for at least 12 months.

The "estrangement" needs to be "endorsed by a professional person who knows your circumstances" such as social worker, college/university adviser or a teacher.

People over 25 are classed as "independent" students.

'Corporate parent'
Image caption Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin is calling for parity with care-experienced students

The charity Stand Alone has been calling on the Scottish government to give estranged students the same rights as young people who have been in care.

This would mean more access to funding and support.

Chief executive Becca Bland said: "Students who are estranged from family are often missed by the care system, or the system has no remit to intervene in their situation. This includes students who are LGBT+ and who have survived undisclosed abuse."

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin, who was a college lecturer for 13 years, says her own experience tells her that many people are "falling through the cracks".

"I reflect back on my experience as a lecturer and students would drop out and you would never know why," she says.

"I wonder how many of my students were in that situation where they did not have that support."

The SNP MSP is backing the Stand Alone campaign.

'Cliff-edge moments'

Ms Martin says estranged students need a bursary to give them an opportunity to have accommodation that is not just term-time.

"They are not able to go home during the recess period and they are not able to go back to mum and dad when they graduate. These can be real cliff edge moments for estranged students," she says.

Ms Martin also says there is an issue with who will be the "guarantor" for tenancies on flats rented by estranged students.

She wants the same "corporate parent" arrangements as for care-experienced students which mean the university acts as the guarantor.

The Scottish government said they were committed to supporting estranged students and were "actively considering" the call to extend the care-experienced bursary to estranged students.

They said SAAS were also making "enhancements" to the online application process that Blair found so difficult to navigate.

Blair says: "If there was treatment on a par with care-experienced students then more estranged students could go to university and graduate and have successful and healthier lives."