The UK’s largest carers’ charity is today launching a new campaign calling on universities to provide more support to students who are unpaid adult carers.
Carers Trust is asking higher education institutions in England to help young people to manage their studies alongside a caring role.
The ‘Going Higher’ initiative will seek to draw attention to the challenges faced by adult carers aged 14-25 in the UK, who informally support either family members or friends with illnesses, disabilities, mental health conditions or addiction.
Shadow Education Minister Steve McCabe welcomed the campaign and set out measures currently being considered by his party on the subject.
“Labour is currently working on a specific offer for young carers which recognises that the starting point must be a commitment to identify these young people at school and ensure that they receive appropriate help and support.
“The admissions procedures for our universities must be designed so that they identify young carers and having identified them, we should require our higher education institutions to provide the help and support they need…
“These young people have already demonstrated extraordinary resilience and wonderful caring skills. They are a credit to our society and deserve support and recognition to enable them to successfully complete their studies.
“We can no longer accept a situation where they go unnoticed by schools, colleges or universities or where the caring commitment is regarded as a negative,” he said.
Conservative MP, Stuart Andrew, also welcomed the news, describing it as “long overdue”.
The MP for Pudsey spent a number of years working in the hospice movement before becoming a parliamentarian and said he had “witnessed first-hand the important role that young adult carers play in looking after their loved ones and I have long believed that we need to do more to support them."
He was “delighted,” he added, to learn of the launch of the campaign and “would be only too happy to lend it my full support in whatever way I am able.”
“I completely agree with the Trust that universities should be providing more support to their students who are unpaid young adult carers and the support provided by ‘Going Higher’ will mean that they are now in a better position to do this,” he said.
Fellow Tory, Chloe Smith, was keen to outline action that had been taken by the Government to improve support to young adult carers but also acknowledged that there was more to do.
“Last year I asked Ministers in Parliament what the Government was doing to provide more support for them- particularly in schools. Too many young carers remain 'hidden' because of the stigma, discrimination and bullying that are still too often associated with being a young carer.
“I am pleased that the Government has worked in conjunction with the National Young Carers Coalition to provide measures to help schools support any young carers they have among their pupils, including producing an e-learning module for school staff.
“The Government has also made sure that young carers are involved in the training of school nurses, so they know exactly what support they should offer and can champion their needs.
“That said, I know that there is more that can be done to help young carers including throughout colleges, universities and indeed the workplace sometimes too, and I will back efforts in Parliament to make sure they get the support they need,” she said.
Liberal Democrat MP Simon Wright also backed the campaign and called on universities to “do all they can to identify those within their student body who have caring responsibilities, and put in place any necessary support.
“It is ultimately in their interests to do so. Ensuring that young carers receive the help and understanding they need throughout their education will help these students to achieve their full potential. It will guarantee that young carers are able to make the most of higher education and enable them to reach their future goals."
“Universities should do all they can to identify those within their student body who have caring responsibilities, and put in place any necessary support. It is ultimately in their interests to do so.
“Ensuring that young carers receive the help and understanding they need throughout their education will help these students to achieve their full potential. It will guarantee that young carers are able to make the most of higher education and enable them to reach their future goals."
Lowest estimates suggest that there are 375,000 young adult carers in the UK, however, there is no record of how many of them are in post-16 education, making them a hidden group.
Research undertaken by Carers Trust found that caring has a significant impact on the lives of students, with those asked reporting that they missed some or all of their teaching on half of the days they were required to attend.
They also found that 42% of student carers were in paid employment on top of their academic commitments.
Given the increased pressure these young people face it is unsurprising that they are four times more likely to drop out of higher education than their peers.
Building on these findings the charity is calling on Universities to identify the number of student carers, provide both practical and emotional support and report on their progress via access agreements.
The Office for Fair Access, which regulates fair access to higher education in England, has recognised the Carers Trust’s research and recommends that universities consider how access agreements can support student carers.
Labour’s Steve McCabe expressed his support for this suggestion.
“It makes perfect sense to ask the Office for Fair Access to take responsibility for ensuring that universities fulfil such obligations.
“This virtually mirrors the policy that Labour has recently announced for adult carers and the expectations being placed on the NHS to identify and support adult carers,” he said.
Moira Fraser, Director of Policy at Carers Trust, said, “It is very much in universities’ interests to identify and support young adult carers who are their students.
“The Statutory Guidance for the new Care Act in England says that if a young adult carer wants to go to university, the local authority should help them. It also says that the council should make sure the university knows about what the young adult carer wants to achieve in the future.
“Universities will be asked by local authorities what they are doing for their student carers, and our new Going Higher campaign will mean they are in a better position to provide that support.”
As part of the campaign, Carers Trust has also launched a free resource for use by managers and staff working in universities called Supporting Students with Caring Responsibilities: Ideas and Practice for Universities to Help Student Carers Access and Succeed in Higher Education.