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Clause 2

Part of Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 5th February 2008.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:15 pm, 5th February 2008

Welcome back, Mr. Bayley. We have conducted very thorough scrutiny of the 20 lines of page 1, and it is a pleasure to move the first amendment that relates to page 2 of the Bill.

Amendment No. 5 would ameliorate the position of young carers. Clause 2 is very precise and clear about the duty it imposes on 16 and 17-year-olds who do not have a level 3 qualification. They will either have to be in full-time education or full-time apprenticeship, or they can be in a full-time job with training which leads to an appropriate qualification. In that context, full time means at least 20 hours a week and the amount of training must be at least 280 hours a year, which is about one day a week. That is very precise and prescriptive, which may present severe difficulties for young people who have a range of responsibilities outside the purview and life experience of—I do not mean this disrespectfully—parliamentary draftsmen.

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, a charity that helps and supports young carers through its 129 carers centres, believes strongly that young carers should not be exempted from the duties that the Bill imposes on other young people. It makes this very clear, saying:

“We do not believe that young carers should routinely be exempted from the requirement to attend education and training. We fail young carers when we give up on their education.”

The thrust of that amendment is therefore not to exempt young carers.

The trust points out that there are 52,000 carers aged between 16 and 17 in England and Wales and of those nearly 4,000 are responsible for care that engages them for more than 50 hours a week. That figure is based on the 2001 census, and the trust believes that it is likely to be an underestimate.

Most of us will have had a pretty conventional upbringing. It is hard to imagine how a 16 or 17-year-old, let alone an even younger child, could cope with the emotional and practical difficulties of caring for a seriously ill parent or sibling. In their joint paper “Making it Work” published in 2002, the Children’s Society and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers quote some young people who are carers. One said:

“It’s not just the caring that affects you. What really gets to you is the worry of it all. Having a parent who is ill and seeing them in such a think about it a lot.”

Another child said:

“I used to run away from school because I always wanted to be with my mum. I used to think that my mum was going to die. I was about eight...they treated me as if I was playing truant.”

Another said:

“It just something I do. It has to be done and there is no one else to do it.”

That, of course, is the human condition. Children, like adults, will adapt and end up responding to their responsibilities, somehow or other. However, doing that will affect their education: young carers often underperform at school, and many are subject to bullying or suffer mental health problems.

The Princess Royal Trust for Carers is concerned that the duty imposed by clause 2

“could result in 16 and 17-year-old young carers being prosecuted for non-attendance, where they do not have anyone else to provide the care for a family member.”

The trust believes that the fact there are so many young carers is testimony to the lack of community care support. However, its concern about the Bill is that:

“As it stands, the Bill offers little to these families, except the threat of prosecution to young people who fail to attend school, regardless of the pressures upon them.”

It believes that

“this Bill should ensure that families are being offered sufficient and reliable alternative forms of support so that young carers aged 16 and 17 are not relied upon for levels of care that prevent them from attending education;”

The Bill should also

“ensure that parents’ needs are assessed by adult services when considering the application of parenting contracts and parenting orders arising from poor attendance;” and—this is the key point that I wanted to draw to the Committee’s attention, and it is the subject of the amendment—

“offer flexibility on attendance and methods of learning to young carers in exceptional circumstances, such as those caring for a parent in the last stages of terminal illness.”