Posted: 29 October 2019

National Care Leavers' Week: It’s an uphill struggle when young people leave care

Children who grow up in care face all sorts of challenges. When leaving care as an older teenager, it is often overwhelming and difficult starting adult life alone.

This National Care Leavers' Week highlights the need for more support for these vulnerable young people.

Jim, our head of youth engagement, writes about a young person he visited recently. 

Day in the life of a care leaver

It was a modern flat. Clean. But utterly empty. The bare concrete floors highlighted the lack of curtains and the gaping holes in the kitchen cabinets where the oven, fridge and washing machine should have been.

The young man I was visiting had been living in care, but when he’d turned 18 he’d had to leave. He’d started adult life alone, suddenly and immediately.

All I could see was a mattress and a pile of belongings on the floor.

‘No furniture?’ I ask.

‘None.’ he says. ‘I brought the mattress from my old place.’

Things are looking up

It’s not all bad. There is heat now. The gas man came and turned on the gas, and explained how a thermostat works and how to read a meter. He offered some advice, as he knows the block of flats well through frequent work visits. ‘Keep yourself to yourself. Be friendly but keep your head down.’ Sound advice it seems.

The spare bedroom is a bit of a problem. As a young man on his own he doesn’t need a spare bedroom, but this is the flat he’s been offered by the council. If he doesn’t accept it then he will be intentionally homeless. So, he accepts it and will receive £13 less in housing benefit per week because of the spare room (the bedroom tax).

The council are arranging a carpet for the bare floors, at least for part of the flat. Not for the spare bedroom though. 

Making money work

There’s good news on the job front. The carpet fitter who came round offered him an interview and he has accepted a job at the warehouse. It pays just above the minimum wage and he starts on Monday.

But he has some concerns. Will he have to come off benefits from Monday? What happens about the rent? Will there be a month’s gap between benefits stopping and getting paid for his first month’s work? What will he do without money for a whole month? What will that mean for the bills? He already has a bill. The first letter he received was a council tax bill for £152.

Right now, the priority is to be able to get to work on Monday. So he has bought a bus pass, but that leaves him with just 60p. He has no savings. He has no other income than the benefits he receives, which he’s now concerned about. He has no advice from family or friends. His social worker is away.

But I could give him one bit of good news. His local council had just signed up to our campaign to exempt care leavers from council tax. 

Make sure your council is supporting care leavers

Our Fairer Start for Care Leavers campaign has seen over 100 councils exempt care leavers under 25 from paying council tax. However, there are still some young people not benefitting from this vital support. In some areas, councils are saying that council tax exemptions only apply if a young person remains living in their home area.

Together we can close this loophole. We are asking you to contact your council this National Care Leavers' Week and confirm that your council is supporting all young people who have been in their care.



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