Friday 18 February is Care Day, a global celebration of the achievements of people who have been in the care system. For #CareDay22, the theme is “It takes a village to raise a child”, highlighting how all of us have a role to play in ensuring that care experienced people can achieve their potential.
For many years, Leicestershire Cares has worked with care leavers, local councils, businesses and the community to support care experienced young people gain stability and happiness in their lives. Our current campaign builds on our successes and aims to change welfare policy to tackle some of the challenges our young people face in accessing Universal Credit and other welfare support.
Each year hundreds of young people have to apply for Universal Credit at the same time as moving out of care and into independent living. This means they struggle financially while they wait the five weeks for their first payment, as most do not have family to rely on for help.
Other challenges include managing monthly payments (rather than weekly) to avoid getting into arrears or debt; managing a home on the under-25 rate for Universal Credit; and having to explain their situation multiple different times to different work coaches. Care leavers are also three times more likely to be sanctioned than other claimants.
Leicestershire Cares is working with a group of its young people on a project to raise awareness of these issues and persuade local MPs, local authorities and Jobcentres to make changes to improve the situation.
We have developed six key policy asks that we want to see implemented for care leavers:
- A designated lead at every Jobcentre Plus, focused on care leavers
- Introduction of a system ‘marker’ for care leavers when they enter into the welfare system
- All care leavers should be entitled to the over-25s rate in Universal Credit
- Right to advanced payment grant (not loan) so you don’t have to pay this back
- Clear step by step escalation protocol for applying sanctions, so care leavers can’t get sanctioned without their PA being consulted first
- All care leavers should be exempt from paying council tax, up to the age of 25
You can listen to our young people talk about the issues and our asks in our brand new episode of Fostering a New Approach, our care experienced podcast:
So far, our young people have met with local MPs, councillors and children’s services staff at both Leicester City and Leicestershire County Councils to build consensus and support for our policy asks across the local political parties.
All these meetings have been really positive, with politicians committing to write to the Secretary of State with our policy asks, link us to the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, and raise awareness of our project via national media outlets.
Care experienced young people often don’t have family to rely on for advice or financial support, so it’s really important we get the help we need from the government and our local authority.
Our six policy asks will make a huge difference to care leavers’ quality of life, and remove lots of the stresses involved with being on benefits and managing a home at such a young age.
We’re looking forward to working with politicians, children’s service professionals and jobcentres across Leicester and Leicestershire, as well as national policy makers, to make these changes a reality for care experienced young people.Casey, a care experienced young person