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

May 2, 2012 Posted by | Benefits, Education, Young carers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Too rich to care?

My last blog was about how the value of £10 is different for different people depending on what it enables them to do with it. Then comes research on America and Europe which shows that the richer you are the less likely you are to provide care.

The Kiev Economics Institute found that for every 10% rise in salary women will spend 36% less time providing care and men will reduce their input by 18%. This actually corresponds with research in the UK which indicated a link between earning and whether you give up work to care or not.

Basically, these projects suggest that if you can afford to pay for care then you are more likely to do so, and if you cannot then you are more likely to give up work to do it yourself. Money enables choice. So, should a priority for Government be enabling carers of all incomes to have choices?

Technically, social services should provide care to meet all needs of the disabled or seriously ill person, and should only reduce what they provide if the carer is willing and able to provide certain levels of care. However, the reality is that it is assumed that carers will provide care and social services will only top up on the care that the carer cannot provide.

One woman I know has a husband who has a serious condition. Social services told her that it would cost them over £100,000 p/a to provide care to meet his needs, and that they couldn’t afford this. And despite her being a successful professional, she could not afford to buy enough private care. The solution was that she gave up her job and the council provided support worth about £7000 p/a.

I believe the Dilnot Commission’s recommendations (see previous blog) would make purchasing care more affordable and therefore give more people greater choice about how much care they provide and how much care they purchase. At the moment, being able to choose is too dependent on how much money you have.

This also has ramifications for Government economic policy, which I’ll cover in my next blog.

Take care


August 26, 2011 Posted by | Benefits, breaks for carers, Equality Bill, Social Care | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Will the Law Commission’s new proposals change the lives of carers?

It’s probably not wise to announce this in public, but I’m probably going to break the law this weekend. I’m sure that at one point, I will jump into my girlfriend’s Ford Ka and end up doing 33 or 34 MPH when the legal speed limit is 30. But hey, everybody knows that whilst 30MPH is the law, you’re allowed to go 10% or so over the legal limit.

Gavel and balance scales

The Law Commission’s proposals will not change the lives of carers wholesale, but they will raise the bar of what local authorities must do.

The practice differs from the law and sometimes you cannot change behaviour by simply changing the law, but it is to the law that we often turn to first.

The Law Commission are proposing to merge various community care laws enacted since 1948 into one legal statute. But more than just amalgamating existing laws, they are also suggesting new ones.

Some of these could significantly impact upon carers such as withdrawing the need for carers to be providing substantial and regular care to trigger the local authority’s duty to assess if requested.

The Law Commission also propose a national eligibility framework for carers (although not services users). There are other important questions such as whether young carers should have the same rights as adult carers or whether the carer’s assessment should be merged with the community care assessment. And even the most fundamental question is up for grabs – should this new statute apply to England and Wales or just England?

The big question for carers is not any of the above though. It must be whether these legal changes will improve the practice of social services to make sure that carers are identified and assessed. But even if identification and assessment rates increase, there is no guarantee of increased support.

However, let’s go back to my speeding. Why is it that I do 33 and not 36? It’s because the legal limit is 30MPH and the leeway I give myself is based on that. If the limit was 35MPH, I would probably do 38MPH. The law does matter and it does influence behaviour even if we don’t always follow the letter of the law. The Law Commission’s proposals will not change the lives of carers wholesale, but they will raise the bar of what local authorities must do. That has to be a good thing.

Leave a comment here on my blog and I will send you a summary of the proposals – and it would be great to hear what people think. You can also take part in a short survey that will inform our response to the Law Commission:

The consultation closes 1st July:

Take care

May 26, 2010 Posted by | Law, Social Care | , , , , , | 7 Comments