The right to an education is fundamental to a Fair Future – it’s time for the Government to level the playing field for young adult carers

As a group young adult carers, supported by L&W and Carers Trust, deliver an open letter to the Department of Work and Pensions calling on the Government to reform the 21 hour rule, L&W’s Head of Learning for Young People Nicola Aylward explores ‘Fair Futures’, the theme of Young Carers Action Day 2024.


13 03 2024


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Every child and young person in this country has the right to an education. It’s universally accepted, taken for granted, and is fundamental to a society where everybody has a ‘fair future’. This is why it’s so shocking that young adult carers, who sacrifice so much for their families and society, often find themselves excluded from education – the most basic opportunity to build a fair future.

Young people do not choose to become carers. It’s a responsibility that they take on out of love for their families, and to protect the people closest to them. L&W analysis estimates that young adult carers provide over £3.5 billion in unpaid care each year. Despite this, they are three times more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training) compared to other young people. There are multiple reasons why young adult carers drop out of learning, but arguably the most shocking is a government policy rule that can force them to choose between staying in education or claiming Carer’s Allowance.

Young people over 16, who provide 35+ hours of care each week are entitled to claim Carer’s Allowance of £76.75 per week. However, if they chose to study for more than 21 hours each week, they are forced to give up this allowance. Young adult carers typically live in low-income households, where at least one parent is unable to work due to poor health. Most young adult carers cannot afford to give up Carer’s Allowance; instead, many can be forced to drop out of learning so that they can continue claiming this benefit. This is not a choice that any young person should have to make.

“No young adult carer should miss out on learning because they care for their families.”

Read our open letter on the 21 hour rule

The 21 hour rule means that young adult carers cannot study T levels – the Government’s ‘gold standard’ flagship vocational qualification for young people, as T levels require more than 21 hours of study each week. Beyond this, it can be unclear whether courses fall foul of the 21 hour rule. Some full-time courses do not require more than 21 hours of ‘supervised study’, while others do. Therefore, alongside constraining young adult carers’ choices (pushing them away from T levels and some other courses), the 21 hour rule makes a complex picture even more confusing and difficult to navigate.

“When my mum got ill I left college to look after her. At first she needed help all of the time, and I had my younger brother to think about too. The carers centre helped me to claim Carer’s Allowance which was a big help with things like taxis to hospital appointments. After about a year things had settled down so I went back to college, but then my Carer’s Allowance was stopped. Money was already really tight as mum couldn’t work, so I dropped out of college again, for the second time. It was hard enough being back at college and having to juggle everything, losing the money was just too much.” (Young adult carer)

Being NEET, as a young person, restricts future life chances and opportunities. For young people who often talk about having ‘no life of their own’ outside of caring, being pushed out of learning reinforces this, leaving young adult carers feeling trapped and uncertain about their future. Census data suggests that there are around 275,000 young adult carers in England and Wales. In reality, this figure is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s widely estimated that there are closer to 600,000 across the country. They are an army of largely unseen, unpaid carers, who contribute so much, but get so little in return.

The purpose of the benefits system is to provide a safety net when people need it most, and to enable individuals to live independent lives. The 21 hour rule has the opposite impact. Education is a route out of poverty. It drives social mobility, empowers young people to become confident, active citizens, and lead full and productive lives. By pushing many young adult carers away from education, we are restricting their life chances and preventing them from having a life of their own outside of caring.

On Wednesday 13 March, Young Carers Action Day, a group of young adult carers, with the support of L&W and Carers Trust, are delivering an open letter to the Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions urging the government to exempt young adult carers from the 21 hour rule. This simple policy change is fundamental to ensuring that young adult carers really do have the right to a fair future.