Dylan was just 15 when he was looking after his mum and raising his sister. He said the Move on Up project gave the space he needed to carry out his caring responsibilities and look after himself. Image: Commonweal Housing / Quaker Social Action
Up to 250,000 unpaid young adult carers could face homelessness as the cost of living, housing and social care crises intensify, according to a new warning from experts.
The 2021 Census showed five million people provide unpaid care across England and Wales with more than 272,000 young adult carers aged between 16-24 years of age providing an estimated £3.5bn of unpaid care per year.
Young adult carers are an often overlooked group at risk of homelessness with the strain of caring for family leading to mental and physical exhaustion, and restricting access to education and employment opportunities.
This is why charities Quaker Social Action and Commonweal Housing set up a housing project called Move on Up which has supported 32 young adult carers living in four homes in London over the last six years.
In a report released to coincide with Carers Week, the two charities said the project showed unpaid young carers need more support to stave off homelessness. They also urged authorities to amend the carers strategy and action plan to reflect their needs.
“For too long, young adult carers have been the forgotten cohort of carers, going under the policy radar and left without the state support they desperately need, despite the billions in unpaid care they provide,” said Ashley Horsey, chief executive at Commonweal Housing.
“Multiple converging crises are leaving these young vulnerable people on the brink. Without housing support and joined-up government action, homelessness could become a genuine reality for a generation of young adult carers.”
The Move on Up housing project launched in 2017 to address and demonstrate the overlooked housing needs of carers aged between 18 and 25 years of age.
It will end in July but in its six years of operation, there have been 141 referrals to the scheme with 32 people given housing and support.
The project aimed to provide young people with a place to stay outside their family home as a way into independent living.
Around two thirds of participants reported a more positive situation compared to when they initially engaged with charities.
One person who attests to the project’s success is Dylan, who was 15 when he started caring for his younger sister and his mother after she struggled with mental health issues following a relationship breakdown.
The teenager was forced to manage his caring responsibilities alongside school work – including starting at school 10am after looking after his sister and staying until 5pm to catch up – which left him “waking up feeling shattered”.
He later took on an apprenticeship as a technician at a theatre to contribute financially.
“Luckily enough, I was educated enough to buckle down after hours and keep myself in that mindset to catch up on any work I had to do, and I left school with nine GCSEs so it didn’t hold me back,” said Dylan.
“But I lost out on being social with people my age or people who have the same mindset or feelings as me.
“I had a very productive mindset but at that age you don’t just need a super productive mindset, you [need to] socialise with people too.”
Londoner Dylan, now 25, spent five years in Move on Up and has now secured a job as the senior technical manager at the same theatre where he was an apprentice.
He has been able to move home to save money and is in a better position to support his mother. He has had an offer from the charities behind Move on Up to get a deposit for a new place to live.
“I felt free at Move on Up,” said Dylan. “I was still looking after my mum and being a big brother. But that freedom I had just to be in my own headspace where I can actually take time to think for myself is enough for you as a carer to feel more uplifted. That just takes a thousand pounds off your shoulders.
“It felt nice to have that freedom back again because I never had that freedom.”
Similarly, Amelia (not her real name) told The Big Issue she took on the responsibility of caring for her parents who struggled with alcoholism.
The strain of caring for her parents meant the 23-year-old was forced to drop out of her university degree studying philosophy and psychology. Despite dropping out, Amelia took to sleeping at her friend’s university accommodation to escape the rigours of looking after her family. Later, Amelia was forced to leave her home after her relationship with her parents deteriorated.
“It was really stressful,” said Amelia. “I just wish I knew about Move on Up sooner because it would have saved me time.
“I kind of used uni as a place of escape rather than learning. Before I went to university, I was adamant that I didn’t care what was going on at home, I wanted to do good. I pushed through a lot of my studies for a long time but when I went to university, it all just unravelled.”
Amelia spent just over a year in the London house share with Move on Up. She said it gave her the space to look after herself and think about her future.
Now she is working in administration for the NHS and is living in key worker accommodation. She told The Big Issue that young adult carers struggle with coming to terms with the position they’re in and accessing support.
“I couldn’t ask other family members for help and even just realising that you’re a carer is part of it because you just think you’re being dutiful and doing normal chores,” she added.
“The problem was not even knowing for a long time [that I was a carer] and I don’t think there is much help. If I go to the council, they’re not going to see me as a priority for housing. They’re saying ‘you’re a working adult and you’re able to go do private renting’.”
While the project was helpful, some struggled with certain aspects of it.
Some participants struggled to adapt to shared living while others also found the cost of living independently a challenge. Experts from the Learning and Work Institute, who carried out the report, found people racked up high levels of rent arrears due to universal credit, zero-hour contracts, and irregular hours of work.
Judith Moran, director at Quaker Social Action, said the project highlighted the issues young adult carers face.
“When we first started researching the needs of young adult carers, especially around housing, nearly a decade ago, we were shocked by how little information we found,” said Moran.
“It was absent from the policy debate, absent from the agenda of carers organisations and absent from the agenda of the housing sector. It is still – largely – absent. We hope this report lifts this issue into greater visibility and gets the housing needs of young adult carers firmly on the radar of those involved in both policy and practice. Time for change, time for action.”
The experts recommend housing needs for young carers are included in government carer plans alongside reformed vulnerability legislation in housing laws. They also want housing providers to recognise the group as a priority for support.
Housing is also absent in carer assessments carried out by local authorities under the Care Act 2014, with the report arguing this leads to a lack of awareness of how the issue affects young adult carers.
The government should also issue guidance to local authorities setting out a requirement to assess young adult carers’ housing needs when conducting transition assessments, the report recommended.
Andy McGowan, policy and practice manager for young and adult carers, at Carers Trust, said: “The 2021 Census and other recent research all consistently highlight how young adult carers are a group of carers under increasing pressure because of increasing levels of caring responsibilities. It is therefore vital that this group of carers is proactively considered across policy, research and practice.”
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