Young carers are paying the price of the government’s failure to invest properly in the NHS and adult social care services
Without the vital support they need and deserve, young carers are just being exploited, writes Baroness Wheeler
As a carer of a disabled adult who suffered a major stroke 10 years ago, I know from experience and that of other carers how tough, demanding and stressful this role can be – even for the minority who get effective social care and community support.
Imagine therefore undertaking a carer role as a child or young adult, looking after a parent who is disabled or helping look after other family members when your mother or father cannot. The Children’s Society estimates that over 800,000 youngsters are in this position – a figure that continues to grow. Indeed the 2011 census indicated a 19% increase in England and Wales on the previous decade and, more alarmingly, an 83% increase in five, six and seven year olds delivering such care.
Since then, the government’s failure to properly invest in both the NHS and adult social care services has made many people increasingly reliant on relatives, old and young, to plug the gaps.
According to Barnardo’s, the average income of families with young carers is £5,000 lower than those without – with the home more likely to include a single parent. These families will often already face multiple adversities. For young carers, the responsibilities can negatively impact on their experiences of education, with a lasting effect on their life changes and outcomes.
The Department for Education’s 2017 study ‘The Lives of Young Carers in England’ found at least one in seven of them were providing care for more than four hours a day on top of their studies. At weekends and holidays, the figure rose to over one in four. Of those aged between 11 and 16 years, 27% encountered educational difficulties or missed school because of caring responsibilities – rising to 40% for those where there was evidence of parental mental ill health or substance misuse.
It is therefore, unsurprising that young carers do substantially less well than their peers in formal exams. And that those aged between 16 and 18 years are twice as likely to not be in education, employment or training.
Young carers want to help their loved ones and families. But without the vital support they need and deserve, they are just being exploited. That is why I will use an oral question debate in the House of Lords to highlight the urgent need for young carers to help reduce their responsibilities, get assistance and flexibility with schoolwork, and have access to services that offer advice and respite.
Two thirds of young carers receive no formal support, as revealed in the call for evidence in the government’s Carers Action Plan – published in 2018 after two years of pressure from national carer organisations. Yet the recent Queen’s Speech and its supporting documents included no mention of these youngsters.
Additional funding is vital to ensure local authorities can properly implement the provisions of the 2014 Care Act. With many young carers having to undertake personal social care support – such as bathing and dressing – the government must address this crisis before it becomes ever more urgent.
Young Carers’ Awareness day takes place on 30 January, coinciding somewhat with Brexit day. Let us hope that ministers at the Department of Health will not be as subsumed in the UK’s departure from the EU and instead take the opportunity to reveal a package of support that recognises these young people’s needs. They could even announce it on the side of a bus.
Baroness Wheeler is a Labour peer and spokesperson for Health. Her oral question on financial support for young carers is on Monday 13 January 2020.