The constant stream of news coming out of the party conference hasn’t exactly left me impressed with the Tories this week, but here’ s at least one conservative that I can find some agreement with.
The children’s minister has warned colleagues that the government’s welfare changes “appear to undermine” ministerial commitments to support children of disabled lone parents by cutting as much as £3,500 a year from benefit payments.
In a letter seen by the Guardian, the education department minister, Tim Loughton, points out to Lord Freud at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that the “planned changes in the welfare reform bill appear to undermine our efforts to ensure young carers are recognised and supported”.
The letter – between two Conservatives – exposes divisions over how heavy a burden the poor and vulnerable should bear from the budget cuts. Many argue that slashing welfare payments to disabled lone parents means their children will be forced to spend more time caring and less time growing up.
In Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) we see a disproportionate number of young carers. They’re more likely to be depressed or anxious; they’re often more isolated than their peers; all too frequently they’re from low-income families. In some instances, they’ve dropped out of school to look after their physically or mentally ill parents.
In many cases they’re clearly dealing with far more responsibility than any child should. Some of them talk with the maturity you’d expect from somebody twice their age. More than a few of them look absolutely knackered as they do so. In short, they’re a very vulnerable group.
Fortunately, my local area has some very good young carer services. The support they provide can vary from counselling and therapy to simply taking them out with a bunch of other kids for some bowling or a KFC – basically a chance to act like a child rather than a carer. We’ve referred quite a few kids over to those services, and they do good work with them.
Increasingly, as CAMHS become more stretched due to cutbacks, the pressure on us is to do a referral to a young carer service and then discharge them. Which is fine until you remember that those services are also becoming more stretched, because they’re being hit by the cuts too.
I suspect that young carers, as with so many other vulnerable client groups, will be hit by a double whammy of a loss of income combined with support services drying up at the same time.