Can greater access to learning opportunities for young adult carers help combat social inequality?

15 March 2018

The Positive Transitions—Supporting Young Adult Carers in Learning and Work conference provided ample opportunity for rich conversation amongst it’s attendees. While the highlight of the event was the notable presence of HRH The Princess Royal, Learning and Work Institute’s patron, the off-stage, informal networking groups also proved to deliver great insight into new ways of thinking about young adult carers.

It was widely acknowledged that much progress has been made towards supporting young carers and young adult carers. Due to the committed, decades-long work of scholar-advocates such as keynote speaker Professor Saul Becker, the UK has seen tremendous strides in supporting young carers and young adult carers. Some “former” young adult carers, i.e., those recently aged out of the traditional age grouping of 18-24 years old, remarked that they had personally observed an increase in societal awareness of young people with caring responsibilities, and they felt that young carers were increasingly featured on the agenda of policy-makers. These young people pointed to the passage of the 2014 Care Act, strengthening the rights of young carers to an assessment for formal support, as one example of hard-earned progress.

The discussion quickly turned to the pressing concerns of today’s young adult carers; firstly, the debate was raised on the young adult carers exemption from the 21 hour rule in the Carer’s Allowance. The current law in place for the Carer’s Allowance does not allow study on a course for more than 21 hours a week, even if they meet the 35 hour per week caring requirement to claim the Carer’s Allowance. Thus, young adult carers are forced to decide whether to claim the Carer’s Allowance of £62.70 a week, or to be in full-time education. Some argue that the current law overlooks the clear advantage for young adult carers to maintain full-time education while providing unpaid care for their families. To address this issue in the law, a petition has been drafted by young adult carer Lucy Prentice. Her petition calls on the government to exempt young carers from the 21 hour rule of the Carer’s Allowance. You may wish to consider signing the petition here.

Other key policy initiatives were raised, such as the inclusion of young adult carers into the 16-19 bursary and their access to flexible apprenticeships. Attendees pledged to continue the push for young adult carers to be included in this policy, with the understanding that greater access to learning and work opportunities can help young adult carers combat the problems of social inequality that they currently face.

Throughout the day, the issue of young carer identification emerged. The commonly heard phrase: “I didn’t know I was a young carer” reverberated in conversations from both the young adult carers to the social care professionals. For most of the young adult carers in the room, they expressed that they had not been identified until they were older or at a crisis point—or both. Furthermore, some young adult carers indicated that cultural understandings of care influenced whether they self-identified as a carer. Those young carers who identified as Black or from other ethnic minority communities expressed that they faced a common barrier to receiving formal support. While many young carers may express that they did not view themselves as “young carers” until a social service provider, teacher, or GP described them as such, it was equally true that young carers who identified as BME communicated that there was an expectation that they provide care in their families. They expressed that the term “young carer” does not exist in their communities, because of the cultural expectation to provide care.

Furthermore, they expressed that they would feel shame and distress over not providing care for their family members to the point of feeling ostracized within their communities. As such sentiments have been supported by previous research with Black and minority ethnic young carers, this discussion indicates that certain groups of young adult carers remain hidden from the view of health and social care professionals and may not have access to formal support.

In all, the event demonstrated that there has been much success in supporting young adult carers, from policy development to increased societal awareness. Work must continue, particularly in the domains of more inclusive national policy and identification of the very hidden groups of young carers, to ensure that young adult carers receive the help they need to reach their full potential.

Feylyn Lewis