Posted: 16 February 2018

It’s an uphill struggle when young people leave care

*image of an actor, photographed by The Children's Society

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

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. From April 2018 there will be no more council tax bills.

Leaving care is difficult for young people, for a whole host of reasons. Not having to pay council tax is one simple way to give care leavers a fairer start, and one less thing to worry about.

Council Tax Campaign

By Jim Davis MBE - Church team
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