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Nearly 200 charity leaders, housing associations and education providers back call for Government to reform benefits rule that blocks young adult carers from studying A levels or T levels

Chief executives of Barnardo’s and the Association of Colleges are among names backing an open letter from Carers Trust and Learning and Work Institute (L&W), calling for the Government to exempt young adult carers from a rule which prevents them from claiming Carer's Allowance if they study for more than 21 hours per week.

The letter, signed by nearly 200 individuals and organisations, describes how the so-called ‘21 hour rule’ shuts down this group of 16-24-year-olds’ options to study ‘gold standard’ qualifications such as A levels and T levels, as well as the planned Advanced British Standard. Many young adult carers live in low-income households, often in poverty, and cannot afford to give up their Carer’s Allowance.

The call for reform coincides with increased focus from both Government and the Opposition on how to improve youth employment outcomes in the UK. L&W and Carers Trust argue that this group of young people risks being overlooked due to the specific barriers they face in this key transition period into adulthood compared to their peers.

“Implementing this simple policy change would have long-lasting educational and economic benefits for young adult carers and the country,” the letter states. “It will enable more young people with caring responsibilities to study, to complete their courses and to gain qualifications such as T levels, improving their employment prospects and earnings as a result.”

There are an estimated 600,00 young adult carers in England and Wales, around one in 10 young people.. Of these, around 37,000 young people provide over 50 hours of care each week, usually to a family member. In total it is estimated that young adult carers provide over £3.5 billion of unpaid care each year.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of young adult carers in school say they cannot afford to go to college or university. Young adult carers are also 38% less likely to gain a degree qualification than non-carers. For those who care for 35 or more hours per week, they are 86% less likely to gain a degree and 46% less likely to enter employment.

On 13 March, Young Carers Action Day, a group of young adult carers will travel to the Department for Work and Pensions in Whitehall to deliver the letter to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mel Stride MP.

As the Scottish Government has recently announced that this benefits rule change will be implemented for young carers in Scotland from 2024, it is hoped that policy makers will take the same step for young adult carers in England and Wales.

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

"Student carers already face huge challenges balancing education with their caring role. At a time of soaring living costs and increasing pressure on their young shoulders, we should be removing barriers to education for carers, not putting up more. It makes no sense for the 21 hour rule to remain in place, drastically limiting the aspiration of thousands of young adult carers and making them choose between learning and caring. It’s time for the Government to be true to its words about the importance of learning and aspiration and support these young people by making them exempt.”

Nicola Aylward, Head of Learning for Young People at Learning and Work Institute, said:

“We estimate that young adult carers provide over £3.5 billion of unpaid care each year. Due to the pressures of caring, these young people are four times more likely to drop out of college or university compared to their peers, which often leaves them trapped in a caring role, with little opportunity for a life of their own. Children and young people do not choose to be carers: they step in out of love and responsibility for their families. Young adult carers are often fiercely protective of the people they care for, and proud of the work they do, but they should not have to give up their right to an education because of the circumstances they find themselves in. Exempting young adult carers from the 21 hour rule in the benefit system would provide a lifeline to continue their education and develop vital skills and qualifications for the future.”


Notes to Editor

1.      Young adult carers aged 16-24 provide unpaid care to someone, usually a family member, because of a physical or mental health condition, or addiction.

2.      The 2021 Census identified 272,731 young adult carers in England and Wales. 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.

3.      Carer’s Allowance is a benefit of £76.75 a week that can be claimed by people over the age of 16 who are caring for someone at least 35 hours a 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, even when they meet all of the other criterion.

4.      Calculations from Learning and Work Institute (L&W) show that the cost of providing Carer’s Allowance to all eligible young adult carers aged 16-24 in further education (up to and including level 3) is estimated at £54 million each year. To extend this to all young adult carers, studying at any level, the estimated annual cost is £85 million. For young adult carers aged 16-18 this cost is estimated at £31 million a year.

5.      In June 2023, L&W published a full policy briefing on the case for exempting young adult carers from the 21 hour rule. This is available to download at https://learningandwork.org.uk/resources/research-and-reports/young-adult-carers-and-the-21-hour-rule/


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