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Learning and Work Institute and Carers Trust call for change to benefits rule that prevents young adult carers from participating in full-time education

  • A new policy briefing shows young adult carers in England taking the Government’s ‘gold standard’ T levels cannot receive Carer’s Allowance. This is due to a limit of 21 hours of study per week to receive Carer’s Allowance and the fact that T levels involve longer teaching hours than other vocational qualifications.
  • Young adult carers are already three times as likely to not be in education, employment or training as other young people and this rule risks entrenching disadvantage. The briefing makes the case for changing this rule so young adult carers face a level playing field in choosing between qualifications. It would cost up to £54 million per year, around 0.04% of the annual working-age benefits bill.
  • Briefing follows a letter to the Prime Minister for Young Carers Action Day in March 2023, signed by over 80 organisations and 250 individuals.

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.

Download the joint briefing from L&W and Carers Trust
Download a Young Carers in Education briefing by Carers Trust

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.

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.”

Nicola Aylward, Head of Learning for Young People at L&W, said:

“Despite making a fantastic contribution to their families and society, young adult carers miss out on so much. The 21 hour rule effectively pushes them away from education, trapping them in a caring role and preventing them from gaining the skills, qualifications and experience to build a life of their own. Exempting young adult carers from the 21 hour rule in Carer’s Allowance would have educational and economic benefits for these young people and the country. It will enable more young people with caring responsibilities to study, to complete their courses and to gain ‘flagship’ qualifications, improving their employment prospects and earnings as a result.”

Andy McGowan, Policy and Practice Manager for Young and Young Adult Carers at Carers Trust, said:

“Over the past 10 years, the number of young adults taking on significant levels of caring responsibilities has continued to grow while research highlights the huge impact that caring responsibilities can have on their health, wellbeing and opportunities. Despite this, young adult carers are still being forced to choose between caring or learning. Reforming the 21 hour rule would help ensure that these young people are no longer forced to miss out on learning and can benefit from the same educational opportunities as their peers. This is the very least they deserve.”




Learning and Work Institute (L&W) is an independent policy, research and development organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, full employment and inclusion. We have an established programme of research, development and policy work, dedicated to improving young adult carers’ access to opportunities and the outcomes they achieve in education and employment.

Carers Trust works to transform the lives of unpaid carers. It partners with its UK-wide network of local carer organisations to provide funding and support, deliver innovative and evidence-based programmes, raise awareness, and influence policy. Carers Trust’s vision is that unpaid carers are heard and valued, with access to support, advice and resources to enable them to live fulfilled lives.


Andy McGowan, Policy and Practice Manager, Carers Trust - amcgowan@carers.org 



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