A new briefing from Learning and Work Institute (L&W) and Carers Trust makes a costed case for extending eligibility for Carer’s Allowance to young adult carers aged 16-24 who are in full-time further education. The briefing follows a letter to the Prime Minister marking Young Carers Action Day in March 2023, coordinated by Carers Trust and signed by L&W alongside over 80 other organisations and 250 individuals.
Young adult carers provide unpaid care to someone, usually a family member, because of a physical or mental health condition, or addiction. The 2021 Census identified 272,731 young adult carers aged 16-24 in England and Wales. Of these, around 37,000 young people provide over 50 hours of care each week. However, the real number of young adult carers is likely to be much higher as many do not always consider themselves to be carers or are worried about disclosing their caring role.
Carer’s Allowance is a benefit of £76.75 per week that can be claimed by people over the age of 16 who are caring for someone at least 35 hours per week. The ‘21 hour’ or ‘full-time education’ rule means that applicants who are studying for more than 21 hours are week are deemed ineligible. Previous vocational qualifications involved fewer teaching hours and so did not fall foul of this rule. But T levels involve more hours studying each week, a positive step that is more in line with other countries. Young adult carers are therefore forced to choose between claiming Carer’s Allowance or studying so-called ‘gold standard’ T levels and A levels.
Many young adult carers live in low-income households, often in poverty, and cannot afford to give up the vital financial support that Carer’s Allowance provides. The impact of this extra impediment can be seen in young carers’ educational outcomes: these young people are three times as likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) compared to those without caring responsibilities, and four times more likely to drop out of college or university.
L&W and Carers Trust argue that while young adult carers contribute upwards of £3.5bn of unpaid care to the UK economy, the cost of providing Carer’s Allowance to all eligible young adult carers aged 16-24 in further education is estimated at just £54m per year. Exempting 16-18-year-olds alone from this rule would enable young adult carers to study the ‘gold standard’ T levels and A levels at an estimated cost of just £31m per year.
Case study: Sarah, young adult carer, aged 17
“I was 14 when my mum suddenly became ill. Everything fell apart. Mum had to stop work, we had no money and there was nobody to look after us. Gradually everything became my responsibility – looking after my little sister, cooking and cleaning, helping mum to get around and sorting out her tablets. Eventually I left school. I couldn’t look after mum and Jess and go to school. I’m 17 now, with no GCSEs and hardly any friends. Things have settled down a bit at home, but I feel like I’ve missed my chance. I’d like to get qualifications and a job, but we can’t afford to lose my benefits. I couldn’t cope with GCSEs two years ago, so I don’t suppose it would be any different now.”