Unlocking the talents of Young Adult Carers

6 May 2015

There are over 310,000 known young adult carers in England and Wales. These are people aged 16-25, who care for parents, siblings and other relations. Through the huge contribution they make to their families, society and their local communities they save the Treasury and the taxpayer over £1billion per year.
While the vast majority are fiercely protective of, and passionate about, their caring role and who they care for – their responsibilities impact massively on their wellbeing and long term life-chances.  They’re twice as likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) as their peers, achieve lower GCSE grades and to experience mental health difficulties. Bullying, discrimination, isolation and poverty often leave young adult carers feeling trapped and hopeless, with little optimism about their futures.
We think it’s high time we paid them back.
During the last ten years NIACE has been working with young adult carers, national and local charities, learning providers, researchers and policymakers to improve young adult carers’ participation in learning and work. The introduction of both the Care Act (2014) and the Children and Families Act (2014) from April of this year has strengthened young adult carers’ rights in many ways. But there’s so much more to be done; we urgently need government departments to stop working in silo and to develop fully joined up policies that utilise the potential of all young adult carers.
Young adult carers deserve better. They should not provide care at a level which has a negative impact upon their education, wellbeing and life-chances. They should be able to participate in learning and work and have access to the same opportunities as other young people. That’s why NIACE, along with other members of the National Policy Forum for Young Adult Carers, is calling for three specific policy changes.
Firstly, we want young adult carers to be formally identified as a ‘vulnerable group’ giving them full entitlement to the 16-19 Bursary. They currently miss out on this vital support that could help them with the additional financial costs of learning and, as a result, many either don’t take up learning or drop out.
Secondly, we want young adult carers to be exempt from the 21 hour rule in the benefit system. Currently, they lose Carer’s Allowance if they participate in learning for longer than this each week. Most Further Education courses require longer participation, leaving young adult carers in a catch-22 situation. Given that many young adult carers have lost out on several years of education as a result of their caring responsibilities, they deserve greater flexibility to gain the skills they need for successful careers.
Finally, we want young adult carers to be able to access flexible hours Traineeships and Apprenticeships to boost their skills and careers. Currently Skills Funding Agency guidance states that Apprenticeships should be at least 30 hours work per week, except in exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances are not defined and no data is collected. Traineeships do not have this limited flexibility. As a result, many young adult carers are locked out of these opportunities to improve their skills, bridge the gap to work and progress their careers.
Not only will these policy changes deliver life changing benefits to drastically improve the lives of young adult carers, they will be fundamental in enabling young adult carers to exert a level of choice and control over their futures and contribute to inclusive economic growth.