New Clause 10 - Local authorities: duties with respect to young carers

Care Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 4 February 2014.

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‘(1) A local authority must ensure that it takes all reasonable steps to ensure that in relation to—

(a) any school within its area and under its control; and

(b) any functions it discharges in pursuance of its responsibilities as a children’s services authority, there is in place a policy that both identifies young carers and makes arrangements for the provision of support for pupils who are young carers.

(2) In discharging its duty under subsection (1), a local authority must have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.’.—(Liz Kendall.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 11—Further and higher education: duties with respect to student carers.

‘(1) The responsible body of an institution to which this section applies must identify or make arrangements to identify student carers and have a policy in place on providing support for student carers.

(2) This section applies to—

(a) a university;

(b) any other institution within the higher education sector; and

(c) an institution within the further education sector.

(3) A responsible body is—

(a) in the case of an institution in subsection (2)(a) or (b), the governing body;

(b) in the case of a college of further education under the management of a board of management, the board of management; and

(c) in the case of any other college of further education, any board of governors of the college or any person responsible for the management of the college, whether or not formally constituted as a governing body or board of governors.’.

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People) 10:00, 4 February 2014

New clauses 10 and 11 return to the extremely important issue of ensuring carers are better identified. The two new clauses deal specifically with how we can ensure we identify and get help to young carers. New clause 10 would place a duty on local authorities to take all reasonable steps to ensure that schools in their areas identify young carers and that, through the wider work of children’s services, young carers are identified and get the support that they need. New clause 11 would place duties on governing bodies of universities and further and higher education institutions to make sure that student carers are identified and get the help that they need. We have spoken before about new clause 9, also tabled by the Opposition, which is a strong set of amendments to make sure that NHS better identifies adult carers. These need to be taken as a whole. I know that we are not debating new clause 9, but these are specific, practical steps we want to see in the Bill to make sure all carers are identified and get the help that they need.

I pay tribute to my stalwart hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), who included these clauses in her private Member’s Bill. I am sure that when the Minister responds he will say that these new clauses are not needed because there are wider duties in the Bill on local councils and NHS authorities to identify carers, but we believe that the duty needs to be on individual organisations. So the head teacher of a school, the principal of a university or college or the person running a hospital or a community care service would know that their organisation had to have the proper processes in place to identify a carer and had to know what to do—who to refer that person to and what support to provide within the school, college, GP practice or hospital.

We have seen attempts in the past to make this a broad duty on councils or the NHS but when I have run an organisation—which I have; a charity, not a provider—I needed to know that my job as leader of that organisation  was to make sure that that happens on my watch, in my school, my college or my GP practice. We have tried broader duties and they have not worked. That is why we need to go a step further.

On the specific issue of young carers, the official statistics from the census suggest that about 2% of all children are young carers, but that the figure rises to 6% of all children in families with an illness or disability. That would make the figure around 177,000 nationally, but the BBC did some interesting research and survey work. It surveyed more than 4,000 secondary school children and asked whether they helped—not, “Are you a carer?”, because the child might not think they were, but, “Do you help someone get up, get washed, get dressed and do the shopping for them because they are not very well?”. That came up with the figure that 8% of all secondary school children have a caring responsibility, which would make the figure around 700,000 nationally. The average age of young carers, we believe, is around 12, but some are as young as eight or nine. We all know that looking after someone who is sick or disabled can rob children of a lot of their childhood. It can make children feel isolated, because they have to go home and look after their parents rather than staying at an after school club or doing sports or other activities.

We know that nearly one third of young carers in secondary school have educational difficulties or miss out on getting the basics in the classroom. Many feel bullied and isolated because they have these other roles and responsibilities. Young carers are also twice as likely as their peers not to be in education, employment or training. If young carers are lucky enough to be able to go on to university, which many are not, that can then create extra stresses and strains. They may decide to go to a university or college close to home, rather than one further away which provides the course which they really want to study. They may feel that they have to keep coming home at weekends to look after their mum or their dad, and so they cannot focus as much on their studies or extracurricular activities.

New clauses 10 and 11 would make it crystal clear that every organisation which works with young people must have in place a proper process. I have not gone through the process of doing this in a school or a college, but I did recently swap GP practices. Bear with me, because this does have a read-across: GP practices are supposed to identify people who are carers. When I signed up at my GP practice, I had to fill out two pages about how much alcohol I drank. This is not a bad thing and I am glad that it is being looked at, but on carers the form said only, “Are you a carer?”. It did not ask, “Do you look after someone who is sick?”, or ask about this. There was only that one little box to tick.

It is good that GPs are bothered about alcohol, which is a real health problem, but that showed me the mentality. A lot of detail was required on physical health issues—how many units I drank and when, and how I felt, and whether I was drinking on my own and all that stuff—but there was only that one question on being a carer. That showed me that they do not quite get it. I know that the Government have made some steps on the issue of identification but they must go further, because on the ground this is still not in people’s minds.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

Sheffield Young Carers project, of which I am privileged to be a patron, has done a lot of work with schools. It is very noticeable that the schools where  they have worked are much better at identifying carers. Having a duty would put this high on the agenda and ensure that schools did this as a matter of course. It is not because carers are not there or because schools do not care, it is just that they are not aware.

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In my own constituency I have seen Leicester city council and Leicester CCG do some great stuff on identifying carers, but when I looked at the carers’ strategy it did not include schools, universities or the college. It talked about GPs and not hospitals, but we know from Macmillan Cancer Support that some people who are looking after someone with cancer may not have very much contact with their GP while they are in hospital. It must be institution by institution.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

As always, the hon. Lady has compassion for those who are less well off, which we appreciate very much. In Newtownards in my constituency, as in both Leeds and Sheffield, Crossroads Young Carers does excellent work with young people. However, there is also a strong relationship between the young carers and our Assembly, which is in place to advise and assist. Does the hon. Lady feel that bodies such as the young carers organisations in Sheffield and elsewhere should have a relationship with government, both local and at a higher level, to enable the delivery of the better system to which she refers?

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People)

That is a brilliant suggestion. I do not think that organisations, whether central or local government, the Department of Health or local NHS bodies, are purposefully ignoring this issue. Yet when someone who has gone through this tells someone about it directly, face to face, that changes them. It changes their mind and it changes what they actually do. That is why having clear duties in this Bill on individual institutions would make a difference. The boss of a school, college, university or hospital would then know that they have to put in place a proper process. That would make the difference, which is why we urge hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to accept these new clauses today.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Minister of State, Department of Health

New clauses 10 and 12, which are about identifying young carers in schools and student carers in further and higher education institutions, fall within the responsibilities of the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The same amendments were tabled at the Committee stage of the Children and Families Bill in the other place. I join the shadow Minister in paying tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South. She has consistently made the case for carers, which forces everyone to focus on thinking about carers’ needs and how we can better address them. She has been commendable in that regard.

I echo the comments of the shadow Minister about the experience of young carers. I remember talking to a young carer about her experience in school and how the teacher was dismissive of her caring responsibilities and did not consider them a justifiable excuse for not being  able to do something that the teacher wanted her to do. She also made the point that young carers are very high on the list of those who are not in education, employment or training. The paradox is that when I met that young carer and recognised the extraordinary balancing act that she undertakes between education, friendships and her responsibilities at home, caring for her mother, I realised that she was eminently employable. She had the most incredible maturity and the most extraordinary range of skills that most 15-year-olds would never have. Yet the employment prospects of these young carers are clearly diminished.

I also agree about the tick box in the GP practice, indicating that it is not really embedded in culture yet. GP practices, schools, colleges and everyone need always to think about the role of the carer. GP practices need to see carers as partners in the care of an individual. If they work in partnership with the carer as part of a team, everyone benefits, including the GP because the burden is relieved on that general practice. Organisations like those the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley mentioned in her home town are also doing fantastic work on the ground. They are changing attitudes and making people realise that this is a serious issue and that addressing it gives opportunities to people that they would not otherwise have.

As Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Schools, said in the other place, the Government fully support the need to improve early identification of those with caring responsibilities. However, a legislative approach that compels schools to identify young carers, as set out in new clause 10, is not in keeping with the Government’s drive to reduce burdens on schools and free them from central prescription. That is the point that the shadow Minister made in another context about the risks of central prescription.

It is important that head teachers and governors are allowed the necessary local freedom to exercise their welfare responsibilities in the most appropriate way. There are safeguards. For example, OFSTED inspections take particular interest in the experience of more vulnerable children, including young carers, during inspections. I understand that the National Governors Association has put raising awareness of young carers in schools and what schools can do to support them on the agenda of the next meeting of its advisory group on governance on 13 February.

The Children’s Society and the Carers Trust have worked since 2011 to share existing tools and good practice, including an e-learning module for school staff to increase awareness in schools of young carers’ issues, funded by the Department for Education. The Department of Health has also funded the Royal College of Nursing to revise its school nurse toolkit to capture the needs of young carers and we are funding the Queen’s Nursing Institute to work with clinical commissioners to ensure they recognise young carers’ needs as integral to any service.

In addition, we have started training school nurses to be champions for young carers. They will speak up on young carers’ behalf to help head teachers and governors decide how best to support them at school. More than 70 have been trained to date, and a further cohort will be trained in September this year.

There is already much good practice in schools, such as having a nominated lead teacher to whom young carers can talk and signing up to local young carer charter mark standards. It is important that that good practice now becomes universal, so as a next step, and building on the work that has been done, the Big Lottery Fund has decided to work with the Children’s Society on a national awards scheme that will encourage schools to get it right for their young carers. That is a welcome initiative. The Government will continue to support such initiatives and enable schools to exercise their welfare functions in appropriate ways, rather than placing new burdens on them.

On new clause 11, universities are independent and autonomous bodies, and the responsibility for providing adequate support to their students must, obviously, rest with them. Universities are responsible for determining what support to provide to students and having in place mechanisms for identifying need, for example via personal tutor systems, through student surveys or via the students’ union. Information on the results of student surveys are now available to help people determine what university is right for them, which can also help a young carer determine where would be best for them.

Nearly all universities have such mechanisms in place and provide a range of support services to their students. Further education colleges are similarly autonomous and have the same responsibilities for supporting their students and enabling them to complete learning and achieve outcomes. The Department of Health has funded the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education to run a three-year project called “WE Care” to improve work and education for young adult carers and develop innovative networks, approaches and resources to access targeted information, advice and support leading to sustainable employment and progress at work.

Legislating to require further education establishments and universities to identify student carers would override the existing arrangements in place in higher education and develop a care policy that goes against the Government’s commitments to reduce regulation on the sector. Although I appreciate the wish to improve recognition and support for young carers and student carers, the Government do not agree that a legislative approach compelling schools, colleges and universities to identify them is the right way forward. It could lead to exactly the sort of tick-box culture that the shadow Minister described in her GP’s surgery and ultimately achieve nothing for young carers. It is changing culture in such institutions that is critical, and I suspect that the most effective way to do so is through the sort of scheme that they have in Sheffield, where working with schools and colleges forces them to think afresh about what sort of support they need to give young carers.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 10:15, 4 February 2014

The Minister referred in his opening remarks to new clauses 10 and 12; I think that that was a slip of the tongue. It is new clauses 10 and 11 that we are dealing with.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

There is no need to apologise—not for that, anyway—[ Laughter. ]

We are debating important issues. Earlier in the Committee, we debated new clause 9, which seeks to ensure that GPs and other health professionals recognise when a patient is a carer and take their needs into account when treating them, a point well illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West. New clause 10 would require schools and local authorities to have written policies to support young carers. However, if I may, I will speak about new clause 11, which would ensure that universities, and indeed further education institutions, have arrangements in place to identify and support student carers.

Student carers carry a dual burden. They are committed to further or higher education as well as their role as carers. Many student carers find it difficult to balance caring and studying and, in many cases, also working. As we have heard, there are no official statistics on the number of students who are carers, but the best estimates put it at between 3% and 6% of students across the UK.

Student carers are subject to a unique set of demands. They have to manage their living and studying arrangements in a way that most other students do not. Indeed, the majority of student carers do not live in purpose-built student accommodation, unlike most students who go on to further education. The figures I have seen show that two in five student carers live with their parents, and another quarter live in privately rented accommodation. Student carers have to balance sets of demands unfamiliar to most students. Along with their role as carers and as students, three out of five are also in paid employment.

I remind hon. Members that studying on a full-time course disqualifies student carers from being eligible for carer’s allowance, which places an extra strain on mostly young people who are often trying to balance studying and caring responsibilities. The emotional and physical strains associated with being a carer have been well stated by right hon. and hon. Members throughout the Committee’s sittings. Student carers are subject to the additional strain of their commitments to caring and working potentially disrupting their study and, as a consequence, their future careers.

The quality of care that a student carer is able to provide may also suffer. The academic institutions that they are part of might be affected by the lost potential of a student struggling with extra-curricular demands. There is no carer-specific support for a student, making the identification of student carers, so they can be made aware of the general support that might be available, all the more important.

There is some help available to student carers, as the Minister touched on. Without knowledge of and access to such information, a student carer will struggle. Financial support is available to university undergraduates through the adult dependants’ grant from the Student Loans Company. Whatever level of programme the student is studying, they may also be entitled to a grant from the access to learning fund.

Some student carers report unpredictable changes to their caring responsibilities. The health of the relative they care for may deteriorate. That can have an impact on their course work or exams, which is why it is so important that student carers are identified by the responsible body of their institution. Facilitating extensions to coursework or mitigating circumstances allowing a student to delay a module, temporarily suspending studies or switching to a part-time course of study, might all be  vitally important for student carers when they are subject to changes in their caring responsibilities, or indeed find themselves struggling to meet those demands.

The relevant bodies being made aware of the student carer’s status and being prepared to offer the appropriate support can provide invaluable help to a student’s academic progress. Student carers need to know of the available support to be able to manage financially and have their study accommodated by their commitment to being carers.

Ensuring that the responsible body of an institution identifies or agrees to identify student carers would be of great benefit. The student carers, those they care for, the academic institutions they belong to, and society at large would all reap the rewards of a student carer who was able to balance their commitments while living up to their potential. I hope the Minister will consider those points.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Minister of State, Department of Health

I have already given my contribution and response to the shadow Minister. I would only add that I completely agree with everything the hon. Member for Easington said about the importance of identifying young carers and giving them the same opportunities that others benefit from. The only dispute in a sense is the mechanism by which we achieve that and whether a legal duty on the independent institutions that we are talking about achieves that objective, or whether there are better ways of embedding a different culture in these organisations. That is the area of disagreement; the ambition of improving the life chances of young carers is shared, I suspect, by everyone in this Room.

Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People)

I disagree with the Minister; we will not press this issue to a vote, but I am sure that we will come back to it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.