Thursday 26-01-2017 - 10:14
On Young Carers Awareness Day, NUS Wales Deputy President Carmen Smith explains how the Welsh Government can better support student carers to access education.
As your Deputy President, it is my firm belief that good quality education should be as accessible as possible to everyone, including those who have responsibilities and demands on their time, such as student carers.
Student carers need specific, individual support
The Diamond Review recommended that the Welsh Government find a way of providing ‘targeted support’ to students with experience of care. However, we’re concerned that that definition only refers to those who have been in the care system themselves. Of course, that’s incredibly important and necessary, but that narrow definition leaves out a substantial number of students in Wales who have caring responsibilities.
There is a risk that government tries to consider both these groups together, through the same support packages. However, anyone who has experience of being in the system or of being a carer knows that they are two very different groups, which equally require specific, individual support.
We know that there are around 370,000 unpaid carers in Wales and figures from Carers Trust Wales show that the amount of care they provide saves the Welsh economy £8.1 billion every year. We think it’s now time that the Welsh Government help them in return.
So how many young carers are there in Wales?
- Around 30,000 carers under 25 – known as young (under-18) and young adult (aged 18-25) carers.
- Census figures show that there are 12,000 self-identifying carers under 18 in Wales.
- 650 children aged 6-7 who are carers.
This is personal and important to me
From the age of 15, I was a carer for my Dad, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. It was a difficult few years, and sometimes still is, however it was just part of life as I knew it. And there are plenty of other people in the same boat – there are currently 670,000 unpaid carers in the UK caring for someone with dementia.
From my own experience and having had conversations with other young carers, I know that support for carers who were students or wanted to become students did not go nearly far enough. I’ve heard so many stories from carers about how education has failed them. In fact, these stories were part of what inspired me to run to be your Deputy President, in the hope that I could have the opportunity to make a difference to young carers in education.
Since becoming Deputy President, I have been working on how institutions can support student carers. I have also been working with Carers Trust Wales and have attended their Young Adult Carer Forum which was a great opportunity to hear what can be changed to support carers’ responsibilities and education. I also contribute to the UK National Policy Forum for Carers.
Through these groups and engaging with young adult carers, we have a number of suggestions on how education can be more supportive. From having a Carers’ Champion in schools, to students being taught about carers through Personal, Social and Health Education lessons, transport support, flexible deadlines, and action on issues that carers have in claiming Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA).
NUS Wales’ research to support student carers
Carers Trust Wales estimates that there are 1,600 students with caring responsibilities who start their first year of an undergraduate course every year in Wales. That makes up around 4% of our entire HE population.
They are not currently financially supported to cover the costs of their caring responsibilities. In our view, that is an unacceptable situation for them to be in, and that’s why we’ve recently researched into what options the Welsh Government has to provide funding support to these students. This work has resulted in a policy paper, A Fair Deal for Students, a draft of which I yesterday presented to Kirsty Williams, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government.
The Welsh Government’s two main options
- Extend the new, proposed system of student finance from the Diamond Review to include student carers. At an additional cost of some £15 million per year, that would mean £3,250 available per year to student carers, assessed through Student Finance Wales.
- The Welsh Government and the UK Government to extend the existing Carers Allowance to students, achieved by removing the restriction on studying full-time while claiming the Allowance. UK Government to either cover this cost itself (some £15 million per year in Wales) and apply the change across the UK, or Welsh Government to repay the costs directly to the UK Government.
Both of these are realistic, practical, and fully-costed solutions to the challenges that carers face to accessing education. I am clear that everyone should be able to access education regardless of their personal circumstances.
The Welsh Government now has a golden opportunity to show that it is serious about supporting people into education. We very much hope that they will take our recommendations on board, and I look forward to talking through them with the Cabinet Secretary.
Definition: A carer is anyone, of any age, who provides unpaid care and support to a relative, friend or neighbour who needs care and support.