Welsh Conservatives Debate: Young Adult Carers (16/5/19)

Janet:

Diolch. Deputy Presiding Officer, it is a privilege, on behalf of the Welsh Conservative group, to open today's debate, standing up to protect our children and further rights to support our younger carers.

The motion being debated today is an extension of our former work here, with the introduction of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014, the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 and the Donaldson review. However, our motion goes even further, proposing that the more than 21,000 young adult carers in Wales are not only officially recognised for their sacrifices, hard work and invaluable care of family and friends, but are given the practical support that they need in order to look after their own health and needs and to flourish in other areas of their lives. This includes providing financial support to young caring students and we have no hesitation in endorsing a policy brought forward earlier by this group that would see young caring students and apprentices with £60 per week. This Conservative recommendation has been repeatedly ignored and I wish to reiterate my support, and this group's, for this measure.

As a result of further research into the realities of young carers' lives, more so than ever we are aware of the immense and complex difficulties facing our young carers. Crucially, our research and engagement with young caring organisations, such as Carers Trust Wales and the Prince's Trust, has illustrated that young carers do require further frameworks of support, and that each instance of caring and supporting a family member or other loved one is rather unique.

Young adult carers range from 14 to 16-year-olds in schools—although, I have to say I heard recently of a young carer of eight years old—trying to manage their GCSE commitments and maturity into adolescence, to 18-year-olds in sixth form; 20-year-olds in university and 24 and 25-year-olds trying to adapt to the demands of adult and work life. Whilst I fully recognise that this path can vary depending on the individual, it is widely corroborated that young adult carers are far less likely to be in education, employment or other training. In fact, according to young carers in Wales, young adult carers are three times more likely to be or have been classified as not in education, employment or training. This has been supported by the Audit Commission, which, as early as 2010, concluded that young carers between ages 16 and 18 were twice more likely to have been NEET for over six months. And, according to the research from Carers Trust Wales, ‘Time to be Heard Wales’, the most common qualification among the survey respondents was a grade D at GCSE. Yet, Deputy Presiding Officer, these educational barriers and challenges have been identified at earlier stages in school life. 

In 2014, the University of Nottingham concluded in their report, ‘Time to be Heard: A Call for Recognition and Support for Young Adult Carers’, that one quarter of young carers reported experiences of bullying and abuse in school purely because of their caring role and responsibilities. Given the myriad of ways in which one can act as a carer, classmates may find the situation of a carer’s parents or sibling actually laughable—we know of instances of that—subjecting them to humiliation and, in fact, deep embarrassment.

Similarly, schoolchildren may abuse and bully a young carer if they find they are attending to a disability of another, or because of their poor academic performance, financial troubles, emotional maturity and personality characteristics that seem at odds with other members of the class. Young adult carers should not be stigmatised and subject to bullying, and, in addressing the concerning statistics on academic and educational performance, the Welsh Government must acknowledge the social and emotional dimensions that influence these trends and endeavour to encourage schools and further education institutions to develop practical ways of supporting this vulnerable and disadvantaged group.

As indicated by research from the Department for Education, the most vulnerable carers are those who are unsupported and whose responsibilities are disproportionate to their own age and maturity. As recommended by Estyn, the first task for educational sites should be to identify those students that do have caring responsibilities and to go further by compiling a record of the total number of young carers who are undertaking various educational programmes and qualifications whilst juggling these caring responsibilities in the home. To reiterate, what distinguishes a young carer are that their responsibilities persist over time and that their input is elemental to maintaining the health or well-being of a family member, or indeed a friend.

Now, in order to support students in the most appropriate way, these carers do need to be identified as early as possible. For this reason, as Conservatives, we are proposing that the Welsh Government do introduce ID cards for carers. This will benefit them by preventing them from repeating their circumstances, which find them so disaggregated from normal life in school or other forms of education, and help them to enhance communication with educational and other health professionals that they find they have no choice other than to interact with.

The success of this guidance is epitomised by Coleg Gwent, which has developed a strategy to specifically support young carers from pre-entry to post-completion. That is to say that prospective and current students with caring responsibilities at Coleg Gwent have access to impartial and tailored support in order to maximise their learning experience and achievement. So, I would, wouldn’t I, given what’s been said here, call on the Government to use the success of Coleg Gwent as an example to further educational institutions so that young carers are not only given an opportunity to improve their lives and achieve success—. We could go on, actually, talking about the negatives, but when you find good practice in an area, my request is that we look into that further, and you as a Government, so as to roll that out across Wales so that not one carer is found wanting of that additional support.

The second critical point is that local authorities across Wales must learn to recognise that the introduction of these cards must be compulsory and that all relevant parties, such as health and educational professions, properly understand the ID cards and their implications. This should be achieved by the launching of an effective campaign before the ID cards are to be introduced. Teachers and healthcare workers—to name others as well—should be aware and understand the card.

Now, without these cards being mandatory and some statutory duty placed on them, we do have evidence to suggest that these cards will not be fully rolled out across all local authorities. Why should we see one authority be very good, and then another authority not bothering to do this? So, really, for uniformity and consistency, it is imperative that there is a statutory duty applied to this. Without these cards being mandatory, there is a risk of regional variation causing unfairness, and the benefits of these cards being missed out if local authorities simply choose not to endorse them.

Indeed, it is also essential that local authorities uphold their responsibilities under the extended Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014. We’re now in 2019, so why not work with that legislation and make it meaningful? They need to improve their communication with the public about what this Act entails and how it might benefit our young carers. Local authorities across Wales need to ensure that carers are able to access a timely carer's assessment so that they can support them with the challenges they face by providing them with information and advice and signpost them in the direction of the areas they need to go. Given that over 50 per cent of young adult carers suffer with mental health problems—that’s a huge statistic—it is essential that well-being support is included. Furthermore, as previously mentioned,  the key area for improvement concerns education, employment and training, as this is where young carers are demonstrating significant underperformance compared to non-carers.

We talk, don't we, a lot in Government and local authorities, and a lot of areas where public services are delivered, about equality across the piste. This is a classic example. You cannot have a situation where 50 per cent of young carers have got mental health needs and that those are simply going unaddressed. This is an area that can improve their sense of fulfilment and self-esteem by achieving success and having the opportunity to progress in their chosen area of work. By adopting these frameworks in educational settings, it is hoped that the number of premature departures from university by these group should actually decrease.

Integral to these programmes should be the introduction of a concessionary fares scheme, to again overcome the financial barriers that young carers may face in actually getting out there to attend further education. According to the Learning and Work Institute, 24 per cent of young adult carers believe that financial constraints is what is actually preventing them from attending further education. Currently, the concessionary fares scheme only provides free public transport to those aged 60 and above, service veterans and disabled people, yet this does not take into consideration how vital young carers are in our society, and how their contribution in conjunction with other carers saves our economy here in Wales £8.1 billion a year.

So, today, Deputy Minister and deputy Llywydd, I call on the Welsh Government to support the recommendations proposed today to continue prioritising the needs of our young adult carers, to ensure they do receive the care and support that they need to continue their honourable role and have the best chance to cultivate a successful and fulfilling life. I for one am, and I know that Members on these benches are, looking forward to the forthcoming Carers Week. We have many third-party agencies working really hard to highlight the issues I have done so here today. It is now for Welsh Government to actually accept their own responsibilities as regards this. Please support our motions here today. Thank you.