Getting through childhood today seems more complicated than ever, even with the advantages (or complications) of modern must-have technology, mobile phones, games consoles and MP3 players, let alone clothing – if the family can afford them. Without the right accessories, your child risks being a social outcast.
Added to that, families are meant to be more child-focused than ever, which means that, as parents, we are expected to take more responsibility for our children’s educational and social development: on the whole, this focus on “good” child-rearing leaves children with less responsibility around the home.
One group of children is mainly excluded from these changes. Their parents can’t spend the money or devote time and energy to supporting their out-of-school activities. These are the young carers. They take on huge responsibility for their families, acting as main carers for their disabled or chronically ill parents and siblings. Their social exclusion comes in many forms their families will probably have a low income, they won’t have the time or resources to take part in out-of-school activities they may not even have time for a social life. Many of them report having been bullied at school.
Everyone involved in social care knows this. That’s why central government has funded a variety of initiatives to support young carers. The children involved say these schemes have helped them cope, and help them feel that their work is recognised. Now, the government aims to transfer this funding to local authorities.
But this money will not be ring-fenced.
Each authority needs to find local solutions to supporting young carers, certainly. But, historically, what has happened to money given to local authorities for a specific purpose which is not hypothecated – that is, where the money has to be spent in a specific way? After a while, perhaps a year or two, the funding is absorbed into the bigger pot.
In these days, with many services struggling to fund even basic services, meeting only critical needs, there is a good chance that funding for young carers’ support will be diverted to fend off the next budgetary crisis.
Even though the root cause is the under-resourcing of social care – which we hope will be tackled in the next government spending review – if any projects need their funding to be protected right now, it’s support for young carers.
Simon Heng is a wheelchair user and is involved in user-led organisations.