Today we’re proud to celebrate Young Carer’s Awareness Day, and recognise the extraordinary young people around the UK who help to care for their sick or disabled parents, siblings, or other relatives. These remarkable souls have to shoulder huge responsibilities, some from a very young age, as they provide practical, physical, and emotional care to their loved ones. And all too often, they receive no training, little support, and no recognition of the difficulties they face.
This year, the theme of Young Carer’s Awareness Day is “When I Grow Up”. All children have dreams, hopes, and aspirations for the future, but what happens to a young carer when they hit 18? Their peers may be starting to leave home, entering university or a first job and beginning to build their own futures, but for many young adults still caring for a loved one, that kind of independence can seem unimaginably distant.
That’s why we’re launching a new project for young adult carers, in partnership with Quaker Social Action, called Move On Up. It’s designed to help young adult carers find independent accommodation, gain access to better employment and education, and improve their health and well-being. By providing specialised, supported shared housing to this overlooked and unsung group, we’re hoping to create a stepping stone to help young adult carers pursue their own aspirations, and achieve their own identities, lives, and careers.
With upwards of 314,000 young adult carers aged 16-24 in England and Wales as of the 2011 census, it’s clear that the need is greater than ever. In total, these young people provide over £5.5bn of unpaid care per year, with more than one in ten young adult carers providing +50 hours of unpaid care every week.
The demands of providing care for a loved one with complex needs are difficult enough, but combining this with the pressures of school, study or a first job can have a serious impact on young people’s lives. Young carers achieve significantly lower grades at GCSE level, making it harder to go to university or pursue a career outside the home, and over a quarter of all young carers report being bullied at school because of their caring role. Those who do enter higher education or find a job often have their days disrupted by the demands of care, while their ability to find independence and build their own lives outside the home is often severely curtailed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all this can take a serious toll on carer’s well-being, with almost half experiencing mental health problems.
Despite greater public recognition in recent years of the challenges faced by young adult carers – and the shocking lack of support available to them – ever tighter social service budgets have resulted in councils cutting back on targeted support for young people providing care. Carer services are largely set up for middle-aged carers looking after a spouse or elderly parent, with little provision for young people who want independence. Unable to earn enough to pay rent in the private sector, and ineligible for local authority housing support, young adult carers often struggle find their own accommodation and to move on with their lives.
They may feel trapped in the family home, and become increasingly resentful of the demands their loved ones make on them. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this can lead to a breakdown in family relationships, leading some to leave home in an unplanned and chaotic way, perhaps following a catastrophic argument. These vulnerable young people are then highly at risk of exploitation, substance abuse, or homelessness.
Commonweal and QSA believe that allowing young adult carers to fall through the cracks is a serious social injustice. We also think that it might be an injustice that housing could have a key role in helping to address. Our partnership will explore whether providing stable shared housing for young adult carers, together with empathetic and specialist support, might make a huge difference to the lives of these unsung heroes and their families.
We want to find out whether providing shared, supported, affordable housing could give young adult carers the staging post they need begin building their own lives, without losing contact with their families. Living with other carers, with shared experiences and backgrounds, means that each young person will be living with people who really understand them – perhaps for the first time in their lives. We want to provide a space where they can manage their transition to independence, with the support of their peers and care workers, and realise their own hopes for the future.
We’ll be launching the Move On Up initiative very soon, so watch this space for more details of this exciting new project. Until then, we want to salute the incredible work done by young carers across the UK, and wish them all the best for their future lives.
– Ben Martin, Policy & Communications Coordinator
If you would like to get in touch to learn more about the Move On Up project, or if you or anyone you know are a London-based young adult carer interested in getting involved in the project, please contact Jon Scarth: firstname.lastname@example.org