The new cross-government action plan for carers

13 June 2018

Last week the Department of Health and Social Care published its new cross-government action plan for carers. Two years ago, L&W, and many other organisations responded to the Department’s call for evidence, to inform a new carers strategy. Changes in government meant that the new strategy was never published. However, though it’s taken a while, in the main we’re not disappointed. The new action plan is comprehensive and provides real opportunity for joined up approaches that will improve carers’ lives.

Our work with young adult carers has consistently highlighted the challenges they face. Children and young people with caring responsibilities often experience bullying, stigma and discrimination; restricted opportunities to make friends, socialise and develop their own interests; and they often miss out on education and training opportunities. As a result, they are more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) compared to other young people, more likely to have a mental health difficulty and less likely to achieve good GCSE results. These aren’t the outcomes that young adult carers deserve and it’s time we reversed the trend.  We’re really pleased that the new action plan recognises the difficulties that young adult carers face, alongside the importance of flexible education opportunities that will give them the same life chances as other young people.

In our response to the 2016 call for evidence, we highlighted the need for improved support for young adult carers to enable them to make positive transitions between the ages of 16-24. We’ve consulted and engaged hundreds of young adult carers over the last ten years. We know that young adult carers often fall through gaps in support, at key transition points – sometimes from school to college, or employment. Sometimes from young carer services, when they reach an age where they are no longer eligible for support. We’re delighted to see a commitment to securing positive transitions for young adult carers in the new plan, and look forward to working with the department, and a range of other stakeholders across the care, learning and skills sectors, to make this a reality.

Finally, the plan highlights the work we’ve been doing with the Department for Work and Pensions, to make the rules around learning and claiming Carer’s Allowance clearer. In September 2017 we jointly published new materials. Carers’ rights to claim benefits and other entitlement is a complex minefield, that is difficult for many professionals to navigate. For young adult carers it can feel like an impossible task on top of the other pressures they face in their daily lives. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department, carers services and colleges across the country, to ensure that young people who have often missed out on education, are able to study and claim Carer’s Allowance, where they meet the criteria. Whilst we’re confident that this work is enabling more young adult carers to combine caring and studying, alongside claiming the much-needed financial support that they’re entitled to, I’d like to finish with an ask…

The 21-hour rule that prevents carers from studying for more than 21 hours per week and claiming £64.60 per week in Carer’s Allowance is a barrier to learning. Young adult carers miss out on a range of opportunities because of their commitment to caring for their families. We estimate that the 314,000 young adult carers in England Wales save the economy over £5.5 billion in unpaid care each year. Young adult carers are proud of the work they do. We should be proud too. Scrapping the 21-hour rule in Carer’s Allowance would remove the complexities and confusion that young adult carers constantly face. It would make access to learning a reality; an opportunity to gain new skills, build successful careers and have a life of their own, outside caring. So, whilst we welcome the government’s commitment to support young adult carers’ transitions and understand their rights, we’d like them to go a step further and support young adult carers to claim the financial help they and their families need, whilst pursuing their right to learn and build successful futures.

Nicola Aylward – Head of Learning for Young People, Learning and Work Institute