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Don’t attack young carers in the name of improving school attendance

So a recent rumour we have heard emanating from the bowels of Government is how they think we should tackle all a carer with her mumthose feckless people who can’t be bothered to make their children go to school. I don’t know, we taxpayers go to all that trouble to lay on full time education (which rightly none of us should take for granted) and still some people decide not to bother. And to fix this, what should we do? I know, let’s dock their Child Benefit if they don’t pay their fines. That’ll teach em.

This, which I heard about whilst lying in bed having my morning Radio 4 moment, pondering whether I could risk another swat of the snooze button, had me up, hopping mad and ranting at the cat. Whilst I dare say there are people who don’t prioritise their child’s education, the most cursory investigation would reveal that in a huge number of cases there is a more complex story to be heard, often one involving disadvantage, poor support and alienation.

For young carers often it’s not a case of not wanting to go to school. Often it’s a case of not being able to. If you thought your mum might be suicidal today, would you go to school? If the other kids called you names and said your dad was a nutter, would you go? And what if you knew you would get another hammering for not doing your maths homework because your autistic brother spent the whole night screaming? Would you go then? No? Me neither probably.

So many young carers go unnoticed and unsupported, by schools, by health services, by social services, by anyone. Of course school and education is a priority. Young carers deserve the chance to achieve as much as all other children, and many do. Some schools really do their best – having young carers policies and key staff responsible for raising awareness amongst pupils and staff. These schools make sure young carers can achieve, as well as making sure their caring role is reduced by liaising with other support services.

But I’ve met young carers unsupported for years, completely unnoticed by the many health and care professionals coming in and out of their house, and also those who tried to tell their school what was happening, but were given no support at all . Many have been left with the inescapable conclusion that nobody actually cared.

And what makes me most angry in all of this is the staggering inequity of it. If you’re a 2 parent family with an income of£60 or£ 70K or more, then maybe Child Benefit is not quite so critical. But if you’ve got three kids and you’re all struggling, say, on £30K or for many families much less, then it’s an absolutely vital source of income.

Children with one or more disabled parents have a 30% chance of being in relative poverty. So many young carers live in families with low incomes, where every penny is needed. The Eton millionaires inhabiting the Cabinet would do well to think about the implications of what they’re suggesting. If you’re rich, it will have no impact. If you’re poor, it could tip you over the edge. What kind of social justice is this?

Docking Child Benefit would be a blunt, savage, instrument which would impact disproportionately on some of the poorest, most disenfranchised people in our communities. If we want to improve school attendance, let’s start by understanding why kids aren’t going and doing something about that, not by a headline grabbing attack on some of our most vulnerable families.

Related links:

BBC story on “Dock truants’ child benefit, ministers urged

Child Poverty Fact Sheet

See what carers are saying about this on our forums

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May 2, 2012 - Posted by | Benefits, Education, Young carers | , , , , , ,

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