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Care Leavers: Employment Opportunities

Volume 654: debated on Monday 11 February 2019

Building on recent announcements, I have just held two roundtables with care leavers and care leaver charities. The next step is to meet employers to explore how we can further improve job opportunities for care leavers.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Prior to universal credit, under the legacy system, care leavers and other vulnerable jobseekers were just left to sign on but now, with tailored support and work coaches, that has changed. Now that youth unemployment is at record low levels, what is the Minister’s Department doing to make sure that work coaches are helping care leavers to find not just a job but the right job for them?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has championed this area for a number of years, particularly during his time under the former Mayor of London as his youth ambassador. We recognise that the key is to build a personalised and positive relationship between the work coach and the care leaver. We have been working very closely with the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s to improve both the guidance and the training for all our frontline work coaches.

Care leavers are one of the groups at highest risk of homelessness. What support does the Department offer to help care leavers and vulnerable claimants to secure housing?

Last Thursday, my hon. Friend held a powerful debate in Westminster Hall covering some of this area. The Government take the issue very seriously. We are providing additional funding for 47 local authorities that have the highest numbers of care leavers at risk of rough sleeping. That funding will allow them to appoint specialist personnel advisers to provide additional support to small caseloads of those at risk. I am also keen to look at opportunities to open up the jobcentres to care leavers six months before their 18th birthday in order to look at all the different opportunities and support available to them.

Given that care leavers are, by definition, vulnerable and have a host of challenges, including in housing, getting into work, and skills and training, what discussions is the DWP having with local authorities so that rather than drip-dripping a few special projects the Government actually address the chronic underfunding of local government that has let care leavers down, among many others?

Our whole strategy of supporting care leavers, which was set out as part of the care leaver covenant, is about closer partnership working with not only the Department for Education but local authorities, to ensure that there is consistent support across the board. As I said in my previous answer, I want to start that earlier, giving young care leavers the maximum time to prepare for the transition as they reach 18.

The Government deserve some credit for the care leaver covenant. What specific joint work is being undertaken with the Children and Families Minister the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), to ensure that every young person leaving local authority care leaves with a specific offer of a job, apprenticeship or further training? Have the Government considered making that a legal obligation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; I know that he has raised similar issues before. It is right for this work to be joined up and consistent. At the moment, in the DWP, we look at this 28 days before care leavers are due to start UC. As I said, I think that that should be brought forward to six months, with advice and training on the different opportunities that are available. It is vital that all groups work in partnership. They have supported all the roundtables that I have held and I will continue to work closely with them.