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We must break down barriers to give young carers every opportunity to succeed in life

(Alamy)

4 min read

The first ever parliamentary inquiry on how being a carer impacts young people’s life opportunities launches this week and the need for it couldn’t be more pressing.

There are an estimated one million young carers under 18 years old in the United Kingdom and many more young adults who hold similar responsibilities. Evidence from charity Carers Trust and the census show that they are spending increasing amounts of time looking after family members or friends who need support because of an illness, disability or addiction. Some are caring for a staggering eight hours a day, seven days a week. 

Research on the effect this caring role has on their future prospects paints a very troubling picture. A report from University College London released in May showed young and young-adult carers were 38 per cent less likely to get a degree than their peers. Those caring for more than 35 hours a week were 86 per cent less likely. Carers aged 23 or over were also less likely than non-carers to enter employment. 

 These young people warned they were saddled with all too adult concerns over things like rising food costs and soaring bills

In its most recent survey, Carers Trust found that over half of young and young-adult carers were spending more time caring than the year before, while 47 per cent are looking after more people than they used to. Alongside the normal worries of that age, these young people warned they were saddled with all too adult concerns over things like rising food costs and soaring bills, at a cost to their mental health, wellbeing and future prospects. 

Since starting the All-Party Parliamentary Group last year, we’ve heard many powerful stories about the challenges these young people face. Children as young as five are looking after family members, often taking on responsibilities way beyond their years. We were alarmed to hear at our last session that the 2021 census found 1,771 children aged five to seven were caring for more than 50 hours a week – a figure that has actually increased in the past decade. These children are in desperate need of more help.  

At our meeting with the children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza in January, young carers told us they need better support in education and the workplace, also stressing that we need to ensure there are opportunities for them to “just to be kids”. 

The APPG inquiry aims to examine the short and long-term effects of these pressures on their young lives and provide a basis for policy change. We will consider immediate factors like access to education and support for young carers and their families, alongside opportunities for breaks from caring. The inquiry will also examine the impact of caring on them as they enter adulthood including impacts on education and employment, as well as other areas such as housing and finance. The difference legislation has made for young carers and young adult carers, including the introduction of a system of rights in 2014, meant to prevent them taking on excessive amounts of caring, is also likely to be a topic. 

Our inquiry, supported by a group of 11 youth advisors and Carers Trust, launches at 5pm on today with an online launch event and the opening of our call for evidence. We’re seeking to hear from young carers themselves, their parents, the services that support them and the myriad of other people who play a part in their lives from school staff to health professionals to those working in local councils.  

By the time our final report is published this November, we want to develop a comprehensive understanding of how caring responsibilities impact on the lives of young people, with recommendations to address all these issues and ensure their life chances are not blighted by burdens they shouldn’t have to shoulder alone.  

 

Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central and chair of the APPG for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers. Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk and vice-chair of the APPG for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers.

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