A New Strategy for Carers in the UK: IARS Submission of evidence

In March 2016 the UK Department of Health announced their plans to set out a new strategy for carers that reflects their lives, their health and financial concerns and give them the support they need to live well while caring for a family member or friend.

In this framework, a call for evidence was announced seeking consultation with carers and the broader sector including care receivers, business, social workers, NHS staff and other professionals that support and work directly with carers.

IARS International Institute is pleased to submit a response to this call on informal carers. Our submission uses  evidence from our existing and past projects as an international research Institute. It also draws evidence from the current work that we are doing under the Care to Work EU wide programme funded by the European Commission under Erasmus+.

The full submission can be found here:  Submission of evidence_Department of Health_Carers_Strategy

Our submission is accompanied by an open letter to the o Alistair Burt, Minister of State for Communities and Social Care written by the IARS Director Dr Theo Gavrielides

I am pleased to submit our response to your Call for Evidence on informal carers. I have focused our submission on issues that I believe will complement other statements while using evidence from our existing and past projects as an international research institute that is registered as a charity and has no political allegiances. I also draw evidence from the current work that we are doing under the Care to Work EU wide programme funded by the European Commission.

IARS submission focuses on what we believe is the most vulnerable category within the carers group. We refer to young carers especially those from marginalised and black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Images of young carers can be traced as back as the 11th century. Whilst novels tell us the stories of the changing nature and experiences of young carers in Europe, surprisingly scientific research and qualitative studies remain scant. Recently, studies have been carried out on the lives and needs of informal carers in the community. However, these seem to have failed to examine in any depth the particular experiences and needs of young carers not least those who come from minority groups.

By definition, a young person should start in life full of potential and hopes. Independently of their background and circumstances, young people should set off on their life journeys packed with aspirations and dreams. However, for some the reality is rather different as they have no other option, but to take care of their frail mother, father, sibling, grandmother and so on. How do you put your own career choices above your beloveds’ needs? How can social life be important in a young carer’s life when every minute counts? How much do we know about them and what has been done in European societies to support them? The truth is that the educational and employment opportunities and obstacles faced by these young people remain under the radar of research, policy and practice.

The European Commission has acknowledged this gap and thus funded the Care to Work (C2W) project under the new Erasmus + Key Action 2 for Youth. I have used this project to collect evidence for our submission. The project started in May 2015 and aims to tackle the barriers faced by young carers from Black and minority ethnic groups (BME) when accessing employment, education and training. The project is delivered in partnership with three European partners namely Anziani e Non Solo (Italy), Linnaeus University  (Sweden) and the Family and Children Care Centre (Greece). The  IARS International Institute is the coordinator for the programme. As part of this project we have produced an evidence based report on what young carers need. This can be accessed for free and brings together four national reports that were produced as part of the C2W programme. The reports were produced by the project partners and were written in native languages focusing on the UK, Sweden, Italy and Greece. A dedicated website has been set up to disseminate these reports and all other C2W outputs (https://www.care2work.org/).

We have evidence to believe that national youth policies on carers remain fragmented and poorly funded while the youth sector seems to be in competition with its self and weaker than never (Gavrielides, 2013). Putting this challenge in the context of a research, policy and practice area that has traditionally been under the radar, our partnership was faced with a challenge. From the outset, we were adamant to work in collaboration with both the youth and care sectors. From the outset we made our goal clear by bringing together young people and professionals to establish a cross-sector, transnational strategic partnership in order to design and implement innovative practices and come up with a set of accredited, reference documents that will: (a) empower young BME carers, and (b) increase the capacity of service providers, notably in the areas of integration, equity and inclusion, and discrimination.

The IARS International Institute is committed to producing only evidence-based outputs that are informed by the lived experiences of those whose lives we aim to improve. This report represents our first attempt to create an evidence base before we proceed with the designing and piloting of the tools that will empower our target audiences for C2W.

Our call for evidence is timely. The number of young carers in the UK and Europe is not to be underestimated. It is estimated that there over 1.5 million carers below the age of 35. A quarter of them have been carers before the age of 16. Young carers face additional barriers to education, training and employment. For example, young carers aged between 16 and 18 years old are twice as likely not to be in education, employment, or training (NEET) than their peers. Young people with an immigration background are 70% more likely to become NEET compared to nationals. Not surprisingly, our research has also showed that the majority of young carers tend to come from BME communities. In the UK, young carers are 1.5 times more likely than their peers to be from BME groups, and are twice as likely to not speak English as their first language. Who can deny that anyone with a minority background is not already disadvantaged due to discrimination?

Providing care can enable young people to develop their character and to gain life skills that can also facilitate their transition to adulthood.  We also collected evidence that shows that billions of Euros are saved by European public services due to young carers. Our submission argues that if managed well, the responsibilities associated with the caring role can indeed empower young people and not cripple them at early stages of their lives. If properly supported and listened to, then the responsibilities that young BME carers take can help them achieve greater maturity and resilience. Through their role, they can develop problem-solving and coping skills and can become independent. Caring can also enhance practical skills in managing money, maintaining a home, providing child care, organising appointments and liaising with professionals.

Recognising and valuing these skills while opening avenues through real and culturally appropriate choices for employment, education and training can help lift some of the most marginalised young people in Europe out of poverty and disadvantage.  By focusing on this group, I hope that our project can become a catalyst for cultural change that can be embedded within our modern European societies.

The IARS International Institute and myself are at your disposal should you require clarifications and further evidence. As a membership organisation we also aim to share this submission with our members and database subscribers. We would also be happy to share any response that you might have to what we have proposed.

Best wishes

Professor Theo Gavrielides

IARS Founder and Director