First parliamentary inquiry into young carers reveals devastating impact on life opportunities

Thousands of young children spending more than 50 hours a week caring for a family member. Inquiry calls for a national carers strategy to address postcode lottery of support for young carers

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From Carers Trust

  • Thousands of young children spending more than 50 hours a week caring for a family member
  • Inquiry calls for a national carers strategy to address postcode lottery of support for young carers

The first ever parliamentary inquiry into young and young adult carers has revealed a lack of support is having a devastating impact on their education, wellbeing and future prospects.

An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Young Carers and Young Adult Carers, supported by national charity Carers Trust, published its findings today (14th November). It uncovered alarming evidence showing 15,000 children, including 3,000 aged just five to nine, spend 50 hours or more a week looking after family members because of illness, disability or addiction.

There are an estimated one million young carers in the UK and the time they spend caring can lead to them falling behind at school and damage their life opportunities. Yet, despite mounting evidence showing the impact of their caring role, little has been done to improve support over the years.

Many are not being identified by local authorities or schools and this is leading to a postcode lottery of support. The inquiry heard some are being left to cope alone for 10 years before being identified, while evidence to the inquiry showed the average waiting time to get support is three years.

Duncan Baker MP, chair of the inquiry and vice-chair of the APPG, said:

“Our inquiry has heard truly concerning evidence from young carers and those who support them. Some young children spend 50 hours a week caring, while young adult carers have their chances of getting good GCSE results, going to university or getting a job drastically reduced by their caring role. The wildly uneven support available across the country shows an urgent need for the Government and Parliament to work together to transform the landscape.

“It’s up to all of us to give these young people a better start in life so we also need local authorities, health providers, schools, employers, and regulators to join in and help young carers. This is why the All-Party Parliamentary Group is calling on the Government for a national carers strategy to co-ordinate support right across the country.”

The inquiry heard from 70 individuals and organisations including young carers services, schools and parents. Most powerfully, it heard from more than 400 young and young adult carers around the country, with many speaking about the difficulties they encountered in not being identified as a young carer, including a lack of support from schools, local authorities and other services. This lack of help often continued into early adulthood.

The inquiry also heard:

  • There are significant waiting lists for assessments and support in some areas with services struggling to meet demand.
  • Being a young carer has a knock-on effect on school attainment and attendance, with young carers missing 27 school days per year on average.
  • Young adult carers are substantially (38%) less likely to achieve a university degree than their peers without a caring role.
  • Young adult carers are less likely to be employed than their peers without a caring role.
  • Young people with caring responsibilities have a higher prevalence of self-harm. Of children who do self-harm, young carers are twice as likely to attempt to take their own life than non-carers.

Holly, a 21-year-old young adult carer and youth advisor to the inquiry, said:

"I've been helping to take care of my younger sister ever since she was born but I only got identified as a young carer when I turned 14. The inquiry results clearly show many other young carers aren’t being identified. Even when they are, they don't always get the help they need. Caring impacts not just your everyday life but also your dreams for the future, especially when you’re not given the support you desperately need. It's crucial for those in charge to take their responsibilities seriously, be held accountable, and stop thousands of young people falling through the cracks."

The report recommends the urgent introduction of a cross-government national carers strategy, including a properly resourced action plan for young carers and young adult carers. The Government should also work with young carers and young adult carers on immediate plans to improve early identification, increase access to support and reduce the numbers of young people providing excessive levels of care.

To coincide with the report release, a group of young carers will hand an open letter in at 10 Downing Street on 14 November demanding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak does more to help. The letter has been signed by more than 1,100 young and young adult carers.

Responding to the report, Carers Trust’s CEO, Kirsty McHugh, said:

“This damning report, supported by Carers Trust, should be a wake-up call that young carers are being horribly let down by the system. They are facing huge disadvantages when it comes to education, job prospects and wellbeing, all because they put their loved ones first. As the social care system struggles to cope with demand, these young people are having to fill the gaps. Support needs to be ramped up across the board and there’s a critical need for a long-term strategy to ensure a fair future for every young carer.”

11:05, 14 Nov 2023 by Jo Maye