Care-experienced young people need protection from cost of living crisis
Hannah McCowen, manager, National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum, Catch22
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
While financial pressure is being felt by more than two-thirds of the population, a considerable proportion of care experienced 18-25-year-olds are already finding basic necessities are out of reach.
There is little recognition by the government that this cohort are often managing their own household costs. Even for those who are working, they are usually on low incomes and have told us they are struggling and feeling isolated because they can no longer afford to socialise with their peers, plan for the future or, for young parents, give their children the life they would like.
If spiraling inflation causes us to fail to recognise our responsibility to this group, there will be a deeper long-term crisis for a generation of some of the most vulnerable young people.
Care leavers are already more likely to be victims of exploitation and to end up in prison, and not providing them with adequate financial support places them at greater risk of exploitation. At a recent event, three-quarters of young people we spoke to said the cost of living rise was already having a negative impact on their mental health.
In an open letter we wrote to government officials, we outlined why this cost of living crisis will hit young care leavers particularly hard:
Financial independence: Those with care experience are expected for be financially independent from the age of 18 – whereas generally young people are now not leaving the family home until the age of 24.
Mental health concerns: Nearly half of children in care meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder (compared with one in 10 children generally). There are concerns that without further assistance, the crisis will have a significant impact on care leavers’ mental health.
Poorer support networks: Care-experienced young people generally have a poorer support network, meaning they have few people to turn to when in a financial crisis.
Digital poverty: Prior to the cost of living rises, we have seen care leavers choosing between buying food and broadband. Digital access is vital to engaging with education, employment, health services and to staying connected with family and friends. The cost of living increases will put more care leavers into digital poverty, affecting their ability to take positive steps around education and work.
Under 25 universal credit rates: Care-experienced young people under 25-year-olds are only eligible for the under 25 universal credit rates (£61.05 from 1 April), despite having to manage household bills.
In response to this, we are calling on the government to make two immediate changes that would help young care leavers:
Care leavers should be eligible for the over-25 rate of universal credit from the age of 18 since they are deemed financially independent and often responsible for managing the costs of running a household.
A proportion of the Household Support Fund should be ringfenced for councils’ leaving care teams to support care-experienced young people aged 18–25.
We are already starting to see the effects of the cost of living rises on care-experienced young people – not just around being able to pay for food and bills but on their levels of isolation and on their mental health. We need to see this addressed meaningfully, so that these young people can continue to take positive steps and build relationships within their communities.
The National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum is a network of more than 125 local authorities promoting good practice
Catch22 is seeking partners for its Cost of Living Fund to support care leavers and other vulnerable service users www.catch-22.org.uk/cost-of-living-fund/