I beg to move,
That this House has considered support for young carers.
It is a privilege to move the motion with you in the Chair, Mr Owen. One of the special things about being a Member of Parliament is the opportunity we are given to find out more about the extraordinary people in the communities that we represent. Following my election back in 2010, there are few more extraordinary people who I have come into contact with than the young carers I have come to know.
John, for example, is 17 years old now and started caring for his mum when he was 10 years old. She has fibromyalgia. John says:
“This causes her muscles and bones to become weak and most of the time she is unable to walk or even get out of bed. As a young carer, I help my mum with shopping and things inside and outside of the house. I don’t get much time to go out with my mates or have much time to myself. My life is different because I am looking after my mum, making sure she is taking her tablets and eating and drinking.”
John was one of eight young people from Sheffield who I took to meet the Prime Minister last May. I thank the Prime Minister—she has one or two other things on right now—for finding time to sit down for half an hour with us. Another one of the group was Holly. She is now 14 years old but she started caring for her mum and her sister around the age of four or five. Her mum has an underactive thyroid and her sister has a reflux in her right kidney. Holly says of their life:
“I don’t get much time to be a child or to spend time with friends. I don’t mind, but it sometimes gets really frustrating if I can’t sit down for five minutes or so. My life is different to young people who aren’t carers, because I struggle a lot with life and have people to care for. They get to be kids and live their life. I still get to live my life but I have to an adult and I have to be very careful. The highs are that I get to spend lots of time with my mum and my sister. The lows are that I have no other family around, so it is just the three of us. It is very painful for me and very emotional to have to watch my sister screaming in agony.”
Holly and John are the lucky ones, because they have made contact with Sheffield Young Carers, of which I am proud to be a patron. They are getting tremendous support and the opportunity to meet and share their experience with others in the same position, but most young carers are hidden from view. One in 12 children and young people is taking on mid to high-level care for a family member. Their average age is just 12 years old, the average annual income for their families is £5,000 lower than others, 68% are bullied at school, 26% are being bullied about their caring role, 45% report a mental health problem, they achieve nine grades lower at GCSE and they are four times more likely to drop out of further and higher education. The right support is vital, and we owe them nothing less.
This is such an important issue, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is raising it. He has said, quite rightly, that in many cases young carers are unidentified within the system. Does he agree that it is important that schools and GPs, who will have contact with the people the young carers are caring for, do all they can to try to make sure that young carers are flagged up in the system, so they get the support that they need?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She anticipates my next point, which is how important it is that we as a society identify young carers. When I sat down with our young carers in Sheffield and asked them what their priorities were, typically selflessly they put that at the top. They were not thinking of themselves but of the others who had not come into contact with the local group. As she points out, schools and GPs are in the best position to play that role.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on calling this important debate. There is a charity in my constituency called Be Free Young Carers, which represents over 3,000 young carers in south Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse. One of its concerns is that once young carers are identified, the assessment process takes about six months and the help they receive can often be superficial—for example, simply being directed to websites. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the assessment and support for young carers is still inadequate?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is a point that I will return to.
The lives of young carers are divided between home and school, so schools can make a huge difference. In their recommendations to the Prime Minister last May, our young carers made two main points. The first was that schools should be required to have a young carers lead. There is nothing special about that—it is there for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and for looked after children, so we would just be following the same approach. The second recommendation was that Ofsted should inspect schools on what they are doing to support young carers and whether they have a young carers lead in the school. In a press release after the meeting, No. 10 said:
“The Prime Minister recently met with a group of young carers who highlighted issues with identification and support in schools and NHS settings and the Government will be undertaking a review to identify opportunities for improvement in these spaces.”
Will the Minister say, eight months on, what progress his Department has made with the review?
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Will he join me in commending Megan McGarrigle from Glasgow North East Carers Centre, who has being doing a lot of work, going into schools in the east end of Glasgow and talking to young people? That work has identified young people who probably do not even realise that they are carers. The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on the collaboration between local authorities, because in my experience it has been a bit piecemeal.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this crucial debate. I was a young carer in a lone parent family between the ages of 14 and 18. I looked after my mother, who had a debilitating back condition during those four years. At that time there was absolutely no help whatsoever and seemingly no information about any help. Nobody knew where to turn in that regard. Does he agree that when help is framed, it needs to be flexible? It can be as simple as an afternoon off, or as major as to be all encompassing in its scope, to help that person and their family.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for sharing his personal experience as a young carer. I agree with his point about the flexibility of help needed for young carers, who face many different challenges. It needs to be tailored for individual need.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. In relation to support, does he agree with me and my local Oxfordshire charity, Be Free Young Carers, that charities are often relied upon to deliver all of this support, and that there is little support from other actors, such as local authorities? We need to have that.
Further to that point, does my hon. Friend agree that extending commissioning and grant funding is essential in ensuring that the needs of our young carers are met? That is something that was relayed to me by an amazing charity in my area, Wigan & Leigh Young Carers. The problem of sustainability and reliance on short-term funding streams is holding many charities back.
My hon. Friend is making a crucial and powerful speech. I have been working as part of the cross-party parliamentary taskforce on kinship care to try to join all the dots and find a way forward in supporting kinship carers, young and old, through the system. Quite frankly, they save the state a fortune. Does he agree that Parliament needs to take a good look at this problem and start supporting these people in a proper manner?
My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. Two weeks ago, I was giving out awards at the inaugural Eleanor Marx awards ceremony in Lewisham. Schools were asked to nominate young women for their achievements, and the winner of the award was a young carer, in recognition of the work she did in supporting her mum and younger brother. She was overwhelmed by the recognition she got at that awards ceremony. Does he agree that more needs to be done to recognise the tremendous work that young carers are doing?
Taking the hon. Gentleman back to the schools situation, does he think that the power that Ofsted is given to look at what the school is doing on this is very weak, and that strengthening Ofsted’s power in that respect would be a great help in identifying those young carers and ensuring that they are looked after?
The hon. Gentleman anticipates my very next point. We will never see consistently good practice across schools until they are measured and assessed on it, and Ofsted’s role in that is crucial. I ask the Minister, in his winding-up speech, to say whether we can look forward to the Government’s requiring schools to have a young carers lead and requiring Ofsted to include the issue in its inspections.
Returning to some of the other points that our young carers from Sheffield made, there were two recommendations for the national health service, which have begun to be addressed in the NHS long-term plan and the commitment to carers, for which I am grateful. I have shared their recommendations and my questions with the Minister, so I hope he will also be able to confirm that the commitment in paragraph 2.33 of the long-term plan, which says:
“We will continue to identify and support carers”,
will include young carers and recognise the special nature of their needs. Will he say whether general practitioners will be required by the Care Quality Commission to hold a register of young carers in their practices and be inspected on it?
I welcome paragraph 2.35 of the commitment, which says:
“The NHS will roll out ‘top tips’ for general practice which have been developed by Young Carers, which include access to preventive health and social prescribing, and timely referral to local support services.”
It goes on to say:
“Up to 20,000 Young Carers will benefit from this more proactive approach by 23/24”,
but does the Minister recognise that that number falls well short of the estimated 700,000 young carers across the country?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and fellow Sheffield MP for securing this debate. In a previous life, when I was a councillor, I was privileged to chair the children, young people and families scrutiny board, and met every year with Sheffield Young Carers, to whom I say thank you once again for bringing the young carers down to Parliament and letting their voices be heard. It is a shame that we do not celebrate the work they do, because they save the NHS hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds. I was a young carer. My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was about six, so I had the opportunity to look after her. That was good, but at the same time you are not the same as your mates; you are somebody a bit different. The ask from the Sheffield Young Carers is very small, so will he join me in hoping that the Minister will give those young people hope for a better future? The statistics that we have seen show a high risk of their becoming NEETs—not in education, employment or training—with 67% of young carers being bullied and 45% of young adult carers reporting mental health issues. This is a small group of people who really go the full mile and need some care themselves.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank her for sharing her personal experience and for the work that she has previously done with Sheffield Young Carers. Our young carers also have some fairly modest recommendations on financial support, which is an issue she touched on, recognising that their families are poorer, that they have higher costs and that, unlike their peers, they cannot get part-time jobs. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on their proposal that they should get some form of carer’s allowance, which is being introduced in Scotland, and free bus passes, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) is spearheading a local campaign. Specifically with relation to his Department, does the Minister agree that young carers should be one of the named groups eligible for the 16-to-19 bursary?
I have one final question, relating to implementation of the Care Act 2014. A key principle of the statutory guidance issued under that Act is:
“Children should not undertake inappropriate or excessive caring roles that may have an impact on their development…their emotional or physical wellbeing and their prospects in education and life.”
Clearly, the evidence demonstrates the impact. In 2016, the Children’s Commissioner published a report revealing a very patchy service across the country, with many young carers remaining hidden and unsupported. One problem is that there is no guidance to define what is meant by “inappropriate or excessive”. Does the Minister agree that there should be national guidelines defining what is inappropriate or excessive care, to better support professionals in assessing and providing for the needs of young carers?
Fourteen-year-old Phoebe, who also joined me to meet the Prime Minister, has been caring since the age of eight. She probably spoke for all 700,000 young carers in the country when she said:
“I never get much time to myself. I worry a lot. I do panic that I can’t look after myself as much.”
She also said:
“This affects my own well-being.”
Should we not be doing everything to ensure that the caring that contributes so much to the family and saves the country so much does not affect the wellbeing of our young people, and that those young carers get the support they need to make the most of their lives?
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing the debate and on the eloquent way in which he outlined the issues.
I will not repeat the catalogue of personal experiences that my hon. Friend has witnessed at first hand. I think anybody who has had any experience of working with young carers in any part of the country would be able to repeat them. My own local authority, Sandwell Council, was one of the pioneers investigating this particular social problem, and published an early piece of work on child carers in 1989 with the specific objective of identifying the number of potential young carers in the borough and supporting charitable initiatives to address the problems they had. Certainly, first as a councillor and then as a Member of Parliament, it has been my privilege to work with the Sandwell Young Carers organisation, which has enabled me to see at first hand the inspirational young people we have in the borough and the work they do not only on behalf of their own families, but in relieving pressure on public services locally.
As in my hon. Friend’s area, we have Gloucestershire Young Carers, which has just won a tender to remain as the organisation representing young carers in Gloucestershire. Does my hon. Friend agree that a tendering process is the most improper way to encourage those organisations to function properly in representing young carers? It just seems the wrong approach.
Absolutely. In fact, there was an earlier remark on the almost haphazard way in which young carer organisations can access funding. The fact is that to provide a proper, long-term service with the capacity to meet an area’s needs requires long-term, assured funding. The continual tendering process does not provide the degree of certainty necessary to plan services effectively for the long term.
In addition to the inspirational young people that I mentioned, there is the chief executive of SYC, Tracey Hawkins, whom I have known for many years. She brings absolute passion to the job—often in very trying financial circumstances—to sustain that service within my local authority. SYC has a record of raising awareness for professionals across the board within the borough to help them identify and support young carers, and it has a contract with the council to do so.
SYC provides lottery-funded academic support—through homework clubs—and educational support for young carers who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central outlined, often face very difficult home circumstances, resulting in their low attainment, and sometimes low aspiration. It also provides publicity and communicates with other community groups and clubs to broaden young carers’ activities, which again is lottery-funded. The problem is that SYC has to continually try to find new or repeat sources of funds to go on providing those services.
The initial survey in Sandwell identified 2,000 potential young carers as needing support, but SYC has the funding and capacity to deal with only about 520 at any one time. SYC also makes an enormous contribution to supporting other public services in the area.
As a fellow West Midlands MP, I concur with many things the hon. Gentleman says, including on the hand-to-mouth existence that these organisations seem to lead. Does he also recognise that this is not so much about social deprivation or the area of the country where someone lives? I understand from Solihull Young Carers that the wealthier south of my constituency has as many cases of young people in this plight as the north of the borough, which is much more economically deprived. It is actually a nationwide problem.
I certainly agree that this problem is not confined to what were historically called deprived areas. By its very nature, the role of a young carer is often so hidden from general view that it is very difficult to make accurate assessments and comparisons. Although I cannot speak up for Solihull, I can say that it is very important that a uniformity of service should exist around the country, because this problem is not confined to specific geographical areas.
I am conscious of time, so I will quickly come to my concluding questions. To repeat the thrust of the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central, I ask the Minister what is being done to ensure that GPs and other health professionals identify, recognise and register young carers within their practice. The Department of Health and Social Care needs to take a more proactive role in raising awareness of this particular responsibility and ensuring that it is carried out. Similarly, what is being done to ensure that local authorities have pathways for young carers to access care and suitably trained, child-friendly staff with knowledge of the Acts covering young carers? What role do we envisage the voluntary-sector young carers projects playing in that pathway?
My hon. Friend also mentioned transport. Many young carers cite difficulties in accessing school transport and transport to young carers’ facilities, which are put on by charities and other community organisations to relieve some of the pressure of their everyday caring responsibilities. There is little point in having those facilities if the young carers who need them have not the wherewithal to get to them and enjoy them.
There is also an issue around the very welcome transitional arrangement policies for carers over 18 now being devised through a joint initiative of the Children’s Society and the Department of Health and Social Care. The 18-year-old barrier is often a sort of cliff-edge for young carers in their receiving care and advice, which needs to be overcome. I welcome the initiatives now being undertaken to address that problem.
However, my concern is that because many young carers organisations have historically not been involved in this particular area, it may provide a market opportunity for organisations that do not have the same community base, experience and sensitivity to actually fulfil that role. We do not want this to be regarded only as a business opportunity. We want to enable those organisations with a long history of providing this service for young carers in their local communities, and which know their local communities, to have the opportunity to build on that expertise and to develop it for the post-18 cohort of young carers.
Before I call the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), I remind Members that I will begin calling the Front-Bench spokespeople at eight minutes past 5. That will give the Opposition spokespeople five minutes each, will protect the Minister’s 10 minutes and will also give two minutes at the end for the sponsor of the debate to respond.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I echo the sentiments already expressed in both interventions and speeches, including the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). If I may say so, responsibility for the questions he posed to the Minister does not sit only in the Department for Education but across Government. If we are serious about this issue, the need to break out of those silos, and perhaps to have a cross-departmental take on all this, is really important.
I will speak principally on the excellent and enormously positive work done in Blackpool, often by our carers centre, which is of long standing. I have had the privilege to work with the centre over my 22 years as the local Member of Parliament, and particularly with its young carers. Over the past 12 months, the centre has supported 666 young carers. Let us bear in mind that this is—I will not say that it is the tip of the iceberg—certainly not the actual number of young people caring for a parent or family member in Blackpool. Various surveys over the years have suggested that the figure is anything between 2,000 and 3,000, which gives some sense of the scale of it.
The other thing about Blackpool, which is also an issue for many inner-city areas and other seaside and coastal communities, is the degree of double transience—of families coming into the town and of people moving within the town, often because of family break-ups or economic hardship. That means that the ability of people who need care to latch on to a local community is much reduced on what it might be in other parts of the country, which puts even more pressure on the work of those young carers.
Nevertheless, the good news from Blackpool is that there has been tremendous progress in the last few years. I have been privileged and very proud to be part of that. In 2016 we all got a little bit of BBC showbiz dust sprinkled on us, because the BBC’s “DIY SOS” programme, which some hon. Members may be familiar with, descended on Blackpool to transform a building, Blenheim House—which is in the constituency of my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), but which serves the whole of Blackpool—into a young carers centre. Literally hundreds and hundreds of volunteers came from across the community, and I, along with some of my councillor colleagues, lent my hod, as it were, by clearing rubble and doing general labouring tasks in the morning. I also pay tribute to the Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust—the local charity and local business that provided the property and has supported the centre very strongly ever since. It is invidious, when one thinks about the work that is done by young carers and the carers associations that support them, to single out lots of individuals, but I do particularly want to single out Michelle Smith, who has done extraordinary things with the centre and everything that has been taken forward from it.
The hon. Gentleman is paying fitting tribute to the organisations in his constituency. Will he join me in recognising the work of volunteers, particularly the volunteers who assist in my constituency, Gloucestershire Young Carers, because it is their contribution that means that the work can reach so much further and change so many more lives?
I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, the multiplier factor is very important, but it is also very important that young carers themselves do not get burned out. That is one of the key issues. It did not involve young carers, but I have a family history in this regard, in that my father cared for my mother for nearly 25 years; she had severe osteoporosis. Unfortunately, he would not take advantage of the things that were available, and I saw, in his latter years, how he was absolutely worn down by the process. Young people may not show that, but they have the same sorts of issues. When I tell hon. Members that 48% of those young people in Blackpool are caring for a parent because of substance misuse or mental ill health, they will get a sense of the sorts of issues that young carers have to face and deal with.
Last autumn, very important new research from the University of Nottingham revealed that the number of young people between the ages of 11 and 16 who act as carers has more than doubled since a comparable BBC survey in 2010. I was privileged to discuss those findings with people from the carers centre in my area, but also with two young carers, Caitlin Churchill and Claire Taylor, who had written to me over the summer with their personal experiences as well as with ideas to give young carers more support in the classroom.
The classroom is a key factor in this area. We have heard today about the need for Ofsted to be more forthcoming in this area, but school heads and schoolteachers also need to take the issue on board. They may not even know that they have young carers in their midst, and those young people, who sometimes turn up looking bleary-eyed and without having had a meal, may be disciplined for that, because they do not regard it as a caring thing; they think that it is just something they do for mum or dad or sometimes for an older sister or whoever.
That point is very important, as is the mental health project launched by Blackpool Carers Centre for young carers last spring. There have been workshops on this subject, and it is my experience that sometimes, when we bring young people together outside their school frameworks and put young people from one school or college with those from another, they work more collaboratively and do not feel as constrained. However, we need to ensure that the voluntary efforts and voluntary research by those young people outside school feed into schools and colleges as well.
The role of the local authority is also important. Blackpool is a small unitary authority, and I am sad to say that we have been hit very strongly by cuts over the last six or seven years, but it does support the carers centre.
Yes, Mr Owen. The authority does support the carers centre, with a relatively modest amount of funding, so there we have it—a good example of people taking things forward. May I just say one last thing to the Minister? The role of young carers ought to be recognised not just by Ofsted, but in our thinking about bursaries and so on, and particularly when they want to enter higher education and apprenticeships.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) wholeheartedly on securing the debate. He does an enormous amount of work in championing young carers from Sheffield and across the country. Like him, I have met many of the young carers that he mentioned, in part because of the fantastic work of Sheffield Young Carers, which is such an effective voice for those young people, but also because the young people themselves are such excellent advocates, who need absolutely no prompting in describing their experiences and making an impassioned case for change to support the needs of this hidden army of young people, who contribute so much yet receive so little.
I employ a young carer in my constituency office. Gabby has cared for her family since she was four years old and still cares for them now. As a result of that experience, she is an absolutely amazing young woman, who I believe is genuinely capable of anything, but who just needed a chance and some recognition of the obstacles that she faced while growing up that other young people did not have to. That is really at the heart of what young carers are asking for—recognition. I am talking about recognition of the incredible work that they do day in, day out; recognition that as a result of caring for siblings or parents, they struggle to get to school right on time, and that when they are at school, they are really tired; recognition that as a result of their caring, they are much more likely to have mental health problems of their own and risk burnout. Some services do recognise that, but nowhere is the recognition more important than in schools, and I am sorry to say that young carers’ experience in schools is patchy at best. In the words of Sheffield Young Carers, some schools help young carers, but some still do not at all.
It is incumbent on Government to ensure that schools treat young carers consistently and with the respect and recognition that they deserve, so I should be grateful if the Minister would respond explicitly to the recommendations made on education by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central—that schools should be required to have a young carers lead that Ofsted’s inspection framework should cover support for young carers, and that the teacher training curriculum should include information about identifying and supporting young carers.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, I have been working with a lot of young carers over the past year to campaign for free travel for young carers in Sheffield, both while they are in school and outside term time. Understandably, young carers travel much more than their counterparts, going to and from health appointments, collecting shopping and perhaps visiting those they care for. It is absolute common sense that we should recognise that by providing them with free travel.
Just last week, the young carers presented our petition to Sheffield City Council, where they received a standing ovation. Last summer, South Yorkshire passenger transport executive conducted a pilot, but we now need to see it rolled out. If the Minister could commit to raising that with his counterparts in the Department for Transport, we would appreciate it.
These young people ask so little of us, but give so selflessly to their loved ones and save the Exchequer and society so much. It is the very least we can do to make their voices heard in this place and to ensure that sufficient support is in place in their communities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing the debate. Like several other hon. Members, I declare an interest as a former young carer. I would like to thank both the organisations in my constituency and the other organisations that I worked with across Scotland as a volunteer with young carers services in later years. This issue is close to my heart, and I think it is of paramount importance that we should be having this debate.
Lanarkshire Carers Centre in my constituency works with, and for, carers to develop and deliver services that make a positive difference to the lives of carers in Lanarkshire. The services that it provides include one-to-one carer support, carer support groups, short breaks for carers, and carer training opportunities. South Lanarkshire Carers Network empowers carers with knowledge and information that will allow them to make informed choices about available services. It also aims to identify unpaid carers, develop and maintain a network for those carers and identify gaps in service provision.
Carers not only perform a vital role for the people whom they look after, but ease the strain on our public services, as we have heard from many hon. Members. In fact, this point was well made by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central. I recognise his incredible work and passion as a patron of Sheffield Young Carers. He rightly gives a voice to John, Holly and all the other young carers, who deserve to be heard in this House.
Other hon. Members from across the House talked about their personal experiences, which were heartfelt and touching. It is worth recognising the words of the hon. Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) and for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), who have done a great deal of work in their constituencies over many years. That commitment is recognised here, as well as by their constituents. I also recognise the work of Michelle Smith, whom the hon. Member for Blackpool South mentioned, and the work she has done in his constituency. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) rightly identified that she has employed someone in her office who is a young carer. That recognition and opportunity is vital. Every young carer hopes for a chance and we should ensure that they get one.
Young carers provide a vital service to our economy, taking a huge burden off public services, and addressing the constraints of an already decreasing budget. In Scotland’s case, they save the Scottish economy £10.3 billion, which is close to the cost of providing the NHS service in Scotland. There are approximately 759,000 carers in Scotland, which is 17% of the adult population. When we think about carers we assume that they are adults, but there are an estimated 29,000 young carers in Scotland, which is 4% of under-16-year-olds. Being a young carer has a big impact on a young person’s life.
The hon. Lady is making an important point. It is difficult to know the exact figures, but substance abuse and mental health issues are on the rise. We have not mentioned the number of young people who are out there caring but are not recognised, even by themselves, as young carers. How do we identify those young carers going forward?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that salient point. From my point of view, growing up, I did not recognise myself as a young carer. A poster in school reminded me of the kinds of responsibilities that a young carer might have, which make that young person different from other young people in school. The Department for Education should consider an awareness-raising campaign around the responsibilities of young carers. If they are taking on additional responsibilities, they might not necessarily assume that they are caring for a parent or younger sibling. We need to raise awareness of that.
Many young carers find it difficult to balance their caring responsibilities with their education and social life. It can negatively impact their health and the financial difficulties can impact their stress levels. It is vital that young carers are supported, so that they can not only continue to care, but have a life and childhood of their own and not feel different from their non-caring peers at school.
The Scottish Government are leading the way on supporting carers. They have invested around £122 million in a programme for support for young carers. That carer’s allowance is the same level as jobseeker’s allowance and has been backdated to be paid from April 2018. From this autumn, the Scottish Government will introduce the young carer grant, worth £300 per year, which will be granted to 16 to 18-year-olds who have at least 16 hours of caring responsibility. I hope that the Minister will take that into account when he speaks to his colleagues across all Departments, because this issue is not reserved to the Department for Education.
I am conscious that I do not have much time left. I call on the Minister to consider carefully the important role of young carers, and do more to recognise them and support them financially.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for securing this debate and for his powerful contribution, which set us off on the right footing.
The latest figures identify close to 200,000 young carers, but it is likely that the real figure is much higher, because many child carers, some as young as four years old, do not identify themselves as carers. All too often, young carers go about their lives managing their caring responsibilities as best they can, unseen, unheard and unsupported. I want to thank the young carers who have allowed their stories to be shared here today, especially the Sheffield carers.
I was a young carer and I know it is not easy. Being a young carer can be a very isolating experience. All chances of childhood are lost. It is hard to laugh with so much responsibility. It is hard to be carefree when you are coming home from school worrying about what you will find, worrying about household bills, because there is no one else to worry about them, and worrying about siblings. Balancing school and caring responsibilities is, to say the least, difficult. There is no time for homework and it is hard to concentrate at school. There are few chances to have a life of one’s own and few chances to socialise; it is difficult.
Children have rights. The United Nations says that all children have a right to education and a childhood, and the right to be protected from the demands of excessive and inappropriate caring. Too often those rights are denied, and children and young people are suffering. One third of all carers aged between 11 and 18 experience mental health problems of their own. Research shows that one in 20 carers miss school because of their caring responsibilities. Young carers are far more likely to have lower educational attainment, less likely to stay on at school and more likely to be out of work in adult life.
There is some support out there. I pay tribute to the Carers Trust for the work it does supporting 32,000 young carers. I recognise and thank Carers UK and organisations such as Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, which remind us that the siblings of children with life-limiting conditions are also young carers, who deserve the right to regular short breaks. I also thank the all-party parliamentary group on carers for shining a spotlight on these issues.
We are here today because Government support is urgently needed. The Care Act 2014 placed the duty on local authorities to consider the needs of children and young people living in a household where there is an adult with a disability or an impairment. That has not been fully implemented, because of a lack of funds. The Children’s Society worryingly reports that in the last four years the number of young carers has soared by 10,000. It suggests that this may be due to young carers picking up the slack from a shortage of adult social care. It is certainly a fact that adult care budgets have been cut by £7 billion since 2010, and cuts have consequences. Fewer people are now eligible for publicly funded care. Consequently, young family members have to take on more caring responsibilities.
Those young carers need and deserve support. Various promises have been made along the way. Eight months ago, the Prime Minister met some of these brilliant young people and promised to help them. The Government’s carers action plan promised a cross-departmental approach,
“to increase the timely identification”
of carers, to improve access to sport for general health and wellbeing, and to improve educational opportunities and outcomes.
Hon. Members relayed specific and sensible steps that could be taken to support young carers. In terms of health, GPs need to be aware of the caring responsibilities of their young patients. Social prescribing needs to be an option for these young people. In education, every school needs to have a designated lead for young carers. The Government must recognise that funding support is needed. Many young carers live in low-income households, and too often are left to shoulder financial worries. Costs associated with the caring role can be burdensome. Teenage carers often have little time to take on part-time work. Making carers eligible for the vulnerable bursary and free travel arrangements will be a welcome step. Again, I make the plea for funding short breaks for young carers.
Will the Minister go beyond warm words and give us a guarantee on some of the specifics? It is astonishing that the Department of Health and Social Care has published a 10-year plan for the future delivery of services, but does not outline a plan for social care. These issues are so fundamentally interconnected that it is hard to believe that they have not been dealt with in the 10-year plan. When will the long-awaited Green Paper on social care will be published? Will the Minister assure us that the understanding of the needs of all carers will be at the heart of not only the Green Paper on social care, but all Government strategy going forward? Will he guarantee that the Government will ensure that young carers are never forgotten or left behind?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing this debate. I apologise on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), for whom I am deputising. He is unable to be here due to prior departmental commitments.
Young carers do heroic work. They provide vital support to those they look after. We all recognise the enormous contribution that young carers make. The number of hon. Members who have turned up to make interventions or contributions is testament to that. We heard contributions from the hon. Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and for Burnley (Julie Cooper). They have all made excellent points.
Young carers are likely to need additional support to develop and thrive, and there are many voluntary sector organisations doing inspirational work to support them. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central talked about John and Holly coming to meet the Prime Minister in May. She was impressed by the good work of Sheffield Young Carers, which provides respite and support with education and employment training.
Although I am the Minister with responsibility for higher education, I visited Kingston University earlier this month to see first hand how the university supports young carers to access and succeed in higher education through its dedicated KU Cares team. We recognise that many organisations provide similar services across the country, and we applaud the work they do.
It is important that young carers feel able to have the same aspirations as any other child and that they are supported to meet them. The Government are committed to ensuring that young carers have access to services that support and encourage them to achieve the best educational outcomes.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Surrey Young Carers, which supports 2,300 young carers in the county? It has been pointed out that young carers are 40% more likely to have mental health problems if they are not identified and supported early. That is important, because it is only fair to them and the public purse that they are supported.
I thank the organisation my hon. Friend mentions for its work. I will return to that critical point about mental health. The Department thanks all the organisations that hon. Members have mentioned for the work they do. The time and dedication they give is much appreciated.
On identification, many young people wish to help their loved ones, and find reward in doing so, but young carers often go unnoticed and hidden, and perhaps do not even recognise themselves as young carers, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East said. That can put their education, training or health at risk, and prevent them from enjoying their childhood in the same way as other children.
The consistent identification of young carers is challenging, and there are many complex reasons for that, which is why the Department has made sustained progress to tangibly improve identification and support. I was asked about the progress in the past eight months. The Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care have commissioned the Carers Trust to undertake a review of best practice in identifying young carers. That work is ongoing, but its conclusion should give us new insights into how schools, health services and other providers can best achieve that in practice.
Recommendation 3.2 of the cross-Government carers action plan, which was published in June 2018, identified that the two Departments would conduct a review of best practice in identifying young carers. That review will work alongside the Carers Trust work and will involve experts to look at existing best practice and identify what can be done to spread it. It will report back shortly.
We recognise the points that were made about mental health treatment and improving school support for vulnerable pupils. Young carers should receive mental health support if they need it. As part of the NHS long-term plan, there is a commitment to increasing the funding for children’s and young people’s mental health services to improve the support for 345,000 more children and young people to access NHS-funded mental health services in schools and colleges.
NHS England, in particular, is working with the young carer health champions programme to support confidence in using health services. It also focuses on improving support to enable young carers to make a positive transition from children’s to adults’ services. The Department of Health and Social Care will fund a project to identify and disseminate effective practice on that.
On the points made about children in need and about support for them as young carers, when it comes to looking at the impact, which we recognise, we know that statutory support for young carers’ needs is necessary. For that reason, we have implemented the legislative changes that have been touched on, so that young carers have an automatic entitlement to assessment by children’s services. Changes to the Care Act 2014 and the Children and Families Act 2014 have been implemented. The consolidation and simplification of legislation relating to young carers’ assessments has made the rights and duties clearer to young people and practitioners.
There is, however, still work to do on children in need. The Department collects only limited data on young carers through the annual children in need census, which had about 16,100 assessments that identified young care as a factor that contributes to children being in need. We want to do more, which is why the children in need review is identifying how to spread best practice on raising educational outcomes.
Support through social care is reflected in the statutory guidance “Working together to safeguard children”, which clearly states that the specific needs of young carers should be given support, recognition and priority in the assessment process. That process needs to take a whole-family approach to assessment and support.
Like the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, we strongly believe that young people should be protected from inappropriate and excessive caring responsibilities and that we should take that whole-family approach. Local authorities have an overarching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area. They are best placed to assess the needs and priorities in their area, and thresholds are set locally to allow for the specific needs of local children and families. We agree on the need for consistent, high-quality decision making, which is why Ofsted assesses whether local thresholds are set appropriately for children.
We want a system that responds to the needs and interests of children and families, and not the other way around. In such a system, practitioners need to be clear about what is required of them individually and how they can work in partnership with others. That is why the Department is working with the wider charitable sector to improve access to the support that young carers deserve. We have provided the Carers Trust with half a million pounds to develop and run the project “Making a Step Change for Young Carers and their Families”. Improving access to support for young carers is championed across Government through the NHS England young carer health champions programme, which aims to improve confidence in using health services.
There are clearly benefits for schools in identifying and supporting young carers, but changing the law to make them do so is not the best way forward. It is important that headteachers and governors are allowed the freedom to exercise their wealth of responsibilities in the most appropriate way, according to the individual needs of their pupils. Programmes such as those delivered by Suffolk Family Carers, the Carers Trust and the Children’s Society are important, and the more schools that complete them, the more that other schools will not want to be left behind.
Guidance such as “Keeping children safe in education” asks school and college staff to be alert to the potential need for early help for young carers. That support is evaluated by Ofsted inspections that take into account how schools and colleges meet the needs of the range of children and young people that attend them.
The issue of the financial burdens on young carers was raised. Young carers over 16 can be entitled to a carer’s allowance and carer’s credit to support the financial burden and help with gaps in their national insurance record. They can receive discretionary help from the 16 to 19 bursary fund, which is available to education and training institutions. It is the role of those institutions to determine which young people need bursaries and the level of financial support required to enable those students to participate.
The Department for Education provides schools with about £2.4 billion a year through the pupil premium, which provides £1,320 for primary schools and £935 for secondary schools. Eligibility is based on children receiving free school meals, but roughly 60% of young carers are on free school meals, so we know that they will receive that benefit as well.
When it comes to schools making effective use of their pupil premium budgets, we do not seek to tell them how to use the premium, as they will know best how to spend the grant according to their pupil needs. Crucially, however, schools are held to account for their use of the pupil premium through Ofsted inspections and information in performance tables. Most schools are required to publish details online about the impact of that funding.
On bus passes, it is up to local authorities to decide how they wish to allocate their discretionary budgets, including on providing free transport. The Government have made more than £200 billion available up to 2020 for councils to deliver on the local services that their communities want. I note the South Yorkshire pilot, and I will make sure that the Department looks into that.
I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield Central again for securing the debate—I am sure we could have spoken for at least another hour—and it has highlighted a crucial issue. Regardless of which side we are on, we are all determined to help those young carers who do so much for our local society.
I am delighted by the number of hon. Members from both sides of the House who have contributed, and I thank them for that—I am sure the young carers they represent will be grateful too. I am also grateful to hon. Members for sharing their personal experience, which underlines the point about recognising only the tip of the iceberg. Four hon. Members described their experience as young carers, which makes an important statement about the number who go without recognition.
The point was made that good work is done by volunteers, and that is absolutely right, but we should not have to depend on them. Their work should be underpinned by good statutory provision, which needs to be consistent across the country if young carers are not to burn out.
I thank the Minister for the answers that he did provide, although I was disappointed by some of them. He spoke quickly and quietly, so I did not catch everything that he said—I will be reading Hansard. I gave the Department four days’ written notice of every question, so I had hoped that I would get fuller answers. In some cases, where he did answer, he tried to shift responsibility away from the Government and on to local authorities and others, which was disappointing.
Finally, I pay tribute to Sheffield Young Carers, which was the inspiration for the debate. I hope that it recognised, in all the contributions, how strongly hon. Members feel about these issues and how far we will not let them go.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered support for young carers.