There are over 300,000 young carers in the UK, many of these are still at school until the age of 18. Even though figures quote young carers as being 18-25 many have had additional caring responsibilities from much younger ages. For much of their lives they have been supporting their families with the need due to a sick or disabled parent of sibling. Life is likely to have been hard, both mentally and financially. Every social services department has a list of young carers, and many have their own allocated social worker as the pressures on them is enormous. With a chronically sick or disabled sibling or parent they are likely to have been unable to do many of the things expected of families and of their peers; All the family going away at the same time, have friends round, ability to do things on a whim etc. This can lead to resentment of the situation, the sibling, the parent and can lead to poor mental health and be destructive to the family life.
As the young carer reaches 16 their peers will be getting jobs in shops and restaurants, they will be getting freedom and independence. Those with a caring responsibility may not have that opportunity, after their normal household chores they will have to deliver their caring needs and support the family. This proposal suggests that young carers aged 16 to 18 (while in full time education) receive a weekly payment of £30-£40 to recognise the work they do to maintain the family, to reduce the need on health or social services to support the disabled/sick member of the family and to signpost them towards careers in the Health and Social care sector.
This payment would:
1) Provide recognition to the young carer (recognising the sacrifices they have made and continue to make – supporting their mental health and self-esteem)
2) Allow them to develop financial independence in line with their peers (this would be without putting additional strain on the family by losing the young carer to outside work)
3) Encourages the young carer to stay in education rather than leaving to support the family
4) Introduce the young carer into the potential Health and Social care paid employment careers (highlighting career opportunities in industries where there is currently a staff shortage to individuals who have already demonstrated a skill and empathy to the role).
This payment could be taxable (but probably irrelevant as an individual would not earn enough) but would not need to confer NI credit as this would make it preferential over work performed by the young carer’s peers. Eligibility would require a member of the household to be receiving DLA, PIP or requiring Continuing Healthcare and recognition by the appointed social worker of the individual (or the family’s social worker) as a ‘young carer’ and the carer to be in full time education. As with carers allowance (which the young carer could not receive due to being in full time education) there could be a limit on how much additional income the young carer could earn in a week to prevent them taking multiple jobs and therefore not realising the benefits outlined above. Payment would cease if any of the conditions failed to be met.
Although this idea requires investment if it stops just a few families having to opt for residential care for a parent or a sibling of a young carer for a few years (if there are multiple children in a family the benefit could be claimed by different children over a number of years) then the saving from this would greatly exceed the cost (residential care costs for children with CHC can range from £80k-£250k per year depending on health needs). If having a young carer helping with washing, feeding, dressing a parent or helping bath a sibling saves just one visit a week from a social services carer or district nurse than that week has paid for itself and freed up staff for other people.