Findings from a new Carers Trust survey reveal how an alarming lack of support, coupled with a dramatic rise in time spent caring, is leaving thousands of young carers across the UK feeling ‘lonely’, ‘exhausted’, ‘worried’, ‘burned out’ and ‘stressed’.
The findings are published today to mark Young Carers Action Day, an annual event led and organised by Carers Trust to raise awareness of young carers and the challenges they face.
Carers Trust recommendations
Carers Trust is responding to the survey findings by calling on the UK government, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and other stakeholders, to take action to address isolation among young carers and young adult carers. Recommended action includes:
- More commissioned breaks and respite for young carers and young adult carers. Local carer organisations who provide dedicated young carer and young adult carer services are well placed to deliver these, in partnership with local authorities and the wider voluntary sector.
- The UK government and the devolved administrations to do more to monitor how local authorities are meeting statutory duties to identify and support young carers and young adult carers, including funded support packages which help young carers, young adult carers and their families.
- Education providers, whether schools, colleges or universities, need to take a more integrated and collaborative approach to support. This includes working in partnership with the NHS, local authorities and local carer organisations.
- More than half (53%) of young carers and young adult carers said the amount of time they spend caring per week had increased in the past year. And one in five of those reporting an increase said they were caring for as much as 20 to 49 hours more per week.
- At least a third of respondents said their caring role resulted in them either ‘always’ or ‘usually’ feeling ‘worried’ (36%), ‘lonely’ (33%) or ‘stressed’ (42%)
- 40% of young carers and young adult carers responding to the survey said they ‘never’ or ‘not often’ had someone to talk to at school about being a young carer
- 52% of young carers and young adult carers responding to the survey said they ‘never’ or ‘not often’ got support from their school, college or university in balancing study with their caring role.
Even before Coronavirus, pressures on the health and social care services meant increasing levels of caring responsibilities were falling too heavily on young carers’ shoulders. The impact of this overwhelming burden of responsibility was made clear in many of the written responses to the survey.
One young carer said, “it’s harder than anyone understands and I feel like I’m drowning”.
Another said, “It’s too much pressure and responsibility for something I didn’t choose.”
And a third young carer revealed, “It affected my friendships as they didn’t understand why they couldn’t come inside the house.”
Coronavirus exacerbates existing pressures on young carers
Those pressures have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. Many essential services for those being cared for by young carers were closed because of lockdown. That left young carers and young adult carers to take on even further caring responsibilities. And while the pandemic is moving into a less acute phase, COVID continues to negatively impact the lives of young carers and young adult carers. As a result of the pandemic:
- 59% said they felt more stressed
- 47% said they felt less connected to others
- 46% said their education was suffering
- 44% said their mental health is worse
- 41% said they were concerned about their future prospects
Widespread lack of support to help young people manage their caring role
The survey also highlights how society is systematically failing to provide even the most basic level of support to this vulnerable group of young people.
More than half (52%) of all young carers and young adult carers completing the survey said they either ‘never’ got support balancing studies with their caring role, or ‘not enough’. And 40% said they either ‘never’ or ‘not often’ had someone to talk to at school about being a young carer or young adult carer.
Schools, colleges and other educational settings are well placed to offer a student carer support policy. This would have a big impact in helping many young carers juggle their caring role with their studies, as well as preventing many from feeling overwhelmed.
But all too often, the opposite is true, as revealed in just a few of the written responses:
“They don’t understand when I’m late arriving to school … my mum can’t get up most mornings.”
“My school doesn’t care that I’m a young carer, they force me to come to school even when I’ve been up all night looking after [the person I care for], I am so burned out.”
“We have a no phones rule which makes it difficult to keep in contact if needed.”
Responding to the survey findings, Carers Trust’s CEO, Kirsty McHugh, said, “These stark findings underline the plight of young carers. Too many are left unsupported, struggling to access the services they need with knock on effects to their education, mental health and well-being.
“We need more investment in social care generally and local care organisations specifically to relieve young carers of the overwhelming pressure so many are under. In addition, the NHS must ensure its mental health services prioritise young carer support. Otherwise young carers will continue to be left alone to cope with complex problems and responsibilities that would overwhelm most adults, let alone young people.”