Three simple policy changes could better support young adult carers

8 June 2015

Working at NIACE has given me many opportunities to meet young people and hear about what motivates, inspires and challenges them.

Earlier this year I met Amelia, a 19 year old young woman about to complete her first year at university, where she is studying law. Amelia was bursting with energy and enthusiasm, keen to tell me about her plans for the future, her aspiration to be a top human rights barrister and to become a QC. Amelia was impressive – very eloquent and determined. I was immediately convinced that nothing would stop her getting that wig and gown and achieving everything that she was so passionate about.

But what surprised me was that I had met Amelia at an event for young adult carers. I should know by now that there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ young adult carer, or a ‘typical’ young person for that matter. But Amelia really did break the stereotype of a young adult carer – she’d achieved above average GCSEs and A-levels, made apparently seamless transitions, was living away from home, attending a good university and had high career aspirations.

Amelia’s determination to succeed comes from her family. When she was 11, Amelia’s mum was diagnosed with MS. Her condition deteriorated quickly and within a couple of years she needed a high level of care.  Amelia’s older sister Charlotte dropped out of college to become a full time carer for their mum, enabling Amelia to focus on her studies and do well at school and sixth form. A sense of guilt, and the need to make her sister’s decision a worthwhile one, is what drives Amelia’s ambition.  She needs to succeed – to make her family proud, to pay Charlotte back and to change things for future generations of young adult carers.

Amelia’s story left me with very mixed emotions. I remain convinced that she’ll achieve her goals and contribute to achieving a fairer society for young adult carers.  But Amelia is the exception. The shocking reality is that most young adult carers’ experiences mirror Charlotte’s, not Amelia’s. They are twice as likely to be not in education, employment or training as other young people. They achieve significantly lower GCSE grades, they often feel isolated and lonely, live in poverty and have little hope for the future. No surprise then that they are also twice as likely as their peers to experience mental health difficulties.

Not every young adult carer aspires to be a QC – but every young adult carer should have the right to be protected from providing levels of care which impact on their wellbeing and life chances. Every young adult carer should also have the right and the opportunities to engage in learning, make choices and develop their own aspirations. Government, policy makers, local authorities and learning providers all have a duty to enable young adult carers to succeed – not put barriers in their way.

In order to help make this a reality, NIACE has identified three simple policy changes that we believe could make a positive impact on the lives and life chances of young adult carers. Watch our short film below to hear Emily Hicks, a young adult carer and member of the NIACE National Policy Forum, talk about the policy changes that we’re campaigning for.

Too many young adult carers have been robbed of opportunities to fulfil their ambitions. Isn’t it time we pay them back?