Young Carers Action Day 2024

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 14 March 2024.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The visitors in the public gallery are all very welcome. If you are leaving, please do so quickly and quietly, because we are about to go on to our next item of business. Thank you very much for your co-operation.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-12162, in the name of Karen Adam, on young carers action day 2024. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes what it sees as the importance of the Carers Trust annual Young Carers Action Day, which takes place on 13 March 2024; further notes that the Young Carers Action Day 2024 theme is “fair futures for young carers”, which, it understands, will focus on why caring should not be a barrier to learning, earning or being able to get on in life, and thanks young carers for what it sees as the positive role that they play in providing kinship care and the positive role that they place in society.

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party

Bringing this debate to the Scottish Parliament is such a moving moment for me, particularly because we welcome dozens of young carers to the public gallery. Among our visitors are two very special young women who, due to their initiative, have made the debate happen. I thank their teacher for supporting them—she is obviously doing a fantastic job. I am so glad that they can all be with us today.

I dedicate my words to those young carers who are unable to be with us, perhaps because of their caring responsibilities, and to those who, without realising its importance or truly understanding what their role means, see their caregiving as simply what needs to be done in their family.

As a young girl, I seldom called myself a carer, but, as a CODA—a child of a deaf adult—acting as an interpreter and advocating for my deaf father as he navigated life in a hearing world became second nature to me, as it did for many of my CODA friends who were supporting their deaf family members.

As we go about our daily routines, whether that involves driving to work, dropping the kids off at school or just nipping to the shop, around us, working quietly throughout the day, are young carers—children and young people whose mornings might have begun much earlier than many of ours. In the quiet of their homes, they might have assisted a parent with a physical disability, which might have involved preparing breakfast for them and, perhaps, their siblings; helping a parent to wash; offering strength and comfort to a parent who is grappling with mental health challenges; and buffering and mitigating many of the effects that come with disability or illness.

Many of the young people who are watching us from the gallery and countless others across Scotland find themselves in a world where roles are reversed—a world in which those young people, who are so full of love and devotion, are shouldering burdens that would weigh heavily on many adults.

Imagine the young lad who, before he thinks of schoolwork or socialising with his peers, ensures his sibling’s medical needs are met, or the young girl who, instead of scrolling through social media in the way that her peers do, checks in on her mother’s wellbeing and provides comfort and encouragement, showing a maturity well beyond her years. Those are not just acts of duty; they are profound expressions of love and commitment, which are performed against the backdrop of youth.

The two pupils who contacted my office to discuss the lack of resources for young carers in our area showed sheer determination from the outset, and their advocacy for young carers was nothing short of inspiring. We chatted in my office for about an hour, putting plans into action. When I was their age, I doubt that I would have had the initiative to approach my elected representative, let alone advocate so eloquently for the needs of others. Such conversations stand out in our careers as parliamentarians, so it is truly a privilege to bring this subject to the chamber for debate and to pay tribute to them.

Yesterday, we marked young carers action day. I do not want us simply to celebrate the remarkable young individuals in question, although we should do that, and often. I want us to provide young carers with the support that they so rightfully deserve.

The theme of this year’s young carers action day is “fair futures for young carers”. That theme has been chosen because young carers are fighting a battle on two fronts: managing their caregiving responsibilities; and navigating the trials and tribulations of growing up. It is imperative that caring responsibilities do not become barriers to learning, earning or simply being able to move forward in life.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Karen Adam for taking an intervention on this important topic.

Last night, in Perth College, I took part in a question time on young carers action week. A point that was put to me was about the importance of the education system understanding the circumstances of young carers, and of ensuring that its approach reflects and takes account of the additional demands that Karen Adam is so powerfully putting on the record this afternoon. Does Karen Adam agree that it is important that our education system understands the particular needs of the young carers who are part of our education system?

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party

Yes, I absolutely agree with my colleague John Swinney on that point. I will discuss education later in my speech. The education system needs to make allowances and provision for, and provide extra support for, young carers.

Many young carers feel that they are missing out on large parts of their childhood. Caring can also have a serious impact on a young person’s health and wellbeing, their ability to learn—as my colleague pointed out—and their long-term future. According to Carers Trust Scotland, more than half of young carers in Scotland say that they feel worried about their future, and 43 per cent of young carers and young adult carers in Scotland say that caring “always” or “usually” affects how much time they can spend with friends. That is not surprising, but it is something that we must help with, and I will dedicate a portion of my speech to the point about the ability of young carers to learn—their education.

Learning environments play a crucial role in supporting and developing young people who have caring responsibilities. Schools, colleges and universities must be understanding and supportive of young carers, too many of whom feel that that is not currently the case. One in three young carers say that they struggle to balance their caring responsibilities with their education, and young adult carers are 38 per cent less likely to achieve a university degree—sadly, those who care for 35 or more hours a week are 86 per cent less likely to do so, and are 46 per cent less likely to enter employment than their peers.

We need to do our utmost to ensure that young carers have access to learning and training opportunities and that they succeed in their education and employment. They must also have time to themselves, which is so important for their mental health. Above all, young carers must feel that they have a choice in their lives.

I am glad to see that the Scottish Government provides a young carer grant. However, a leading carers charity says that many young people who look after others

“do not recognise themselves to be carers.”

As I said, they see the support that they give as just a regular part of family life. As a result, they do not know that they are entitled to that benefit. I therefore hope that we can promote it as much as possible today.

The motion that we are debating is a call to action, not just a call for recognition. The care that so many of the young people in the public gallery and beyond provide to their families, and the contribution that they make to our society more broadly, are invaluable. [

Applause

.]

Photo of Evelyn Tweed Evelyn Tweed Scottish National Party

I thank my colleague Karen Adam for bringing this important debate to the chamber. As we have heard, the theme of this year’s young carers action day is “fair futures for young carers”, which is about removing the barriers that young carers face and that their peers may not face.

Recently, it was my absolute pleasure to visit the Stirling young carers service, which works in my constituency. I am delighted that Esther Keane and Cara Barber are in the public gallery. I am also delighted that Robert Cairney joins us with his mum, Ann. Robert volunteers with the service and was a young carer himself.

Caring can be a very positive experience but, without the right support, there can be negative impacts on young carers. That is why organisations such as the Stirling young carers service are so important. It told me that young carers often experience stress, tiredness and anxiety due to their caring role. In turn, they can find it hard to concentrate at school and keep up with their school work and homework. They can also feel isolated and miss out on social experiences with their peers.

We in the Stirling constituency are very lucky to have the Stirling young carers service, which runs rural groups. Rurality is a barrier to accessing support. Organisations across Scotland, including in Stirling, are doing excellent work at breaking down such barriers. The Stirling young carers service currently supports more than 150 young carers; 59 of those are in rural groups, and 29 young carers receive one-to-one support to help them to manage stress. However, the service pointed out that young people cannot access support if they do not know that they are young carers.

Robert Cairney has been volunteering with the Stirling young carers service for six years. Robert is so passionate about his volunteering. He is an amazing young man. He also helped to care for and support his twin brother. As a child, however, he felt that it was “just his brother” and that it was very natural to do the things that he did for him. Only later did he realise that taking on such responsibilities meant that he was classed as a young carer.

The carers census found that

“89% of young carers experienced an impact on their emotional well-being due to their caring role.”

When someone does not know that they are a young carer, they miss out on so much support, including financial support such as the young carer grant. That is especially important when 15 per cent of young carers live in the most deprived areas in Scotland.

In order to address that, Stirling young carers are working in schools to help to spread awareness of what it means to be a young carer, and to design continuing professional development for school staff. They would also like to see mandatory training for teachers and school staff, similar to that offered on safeguarding. That could make a huge difference, especially in the light of research from Carers Trust Scotland that suggests that nearly half of young carers do not get enough help to balance caring and their education.

I thank Stirling young carers and their volunteers, such as Robert, and the thousands of young carers across Scotland for the tireless work that they do.

If you are a teenager aged between 16 and 18 with a caring role, you may be entitled to a young carers grant and other support. It is worrying that Scottish Government figures suggest that around 25 per cent of those eligible for a young carers grant in 2022-23 did not apply. If you are unsure and are a local constituent of mine, please get in touch.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

I am delighted to speak in today’s debate to support young carers action day. I thank Karen Adam for bringing forward the debate.

Young carers have something to be very proud of. They sacrifice so much to care for someone they love. These young people are often certain that they have been shaped into the person that they are by their caring role. They gain a heightened sense of empathy, develop acute observation skills and have experiences that come together to form a more caring nature. That is something to celebrate, and we must all do more to support those who encounter challenges that their peers do not. It is important that we acknowledge their different experiences and commend their hard work.

As Karen Adam did, I point out that many people do not understand that they are carers. I asked my daughter recently, as she was doing up my laces, “Are you a young carer?” She rolled her eyes and said “No.” There are many people who do so much, whether for siblings or parents, who are carers, but who—as both previous speakers said—simply do not acknowledge that.

It would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to thank my siblings for the extra support that they gave me as I grew up.

Young carers have plenty on their plate. As well as being in school, their caring work can often involve cooking, providing emotional support, running a household, shopping, dispensing medicine and giving personal care. In the light of young carers action day, it is good to take a moment to think about what a caring role means for a young person’s life.

Some struggle with being seen as different by their friends at school, which can lead to social isolation. That can be made worse by the fact that young carers often do not have as much free time to meet up with their friends as other young people do. They can sense a loss of carefreeness; they can lose that innocence much earlier than others. We should acknowledge that and do everything that we can to support them.

The theme this year is “Fair futures for young carers”. As others have acknowledged in the debate, the best way to facilitate that is through education. It is so important that young carers are properly supported in school and that they are not disadvantaged for the future. We must take that need seriously. It must be heard not simply by this Parliament but, more importantly, by local authority education departments, headteachers and teachers at every level of school.

Many of us have the privilege of going along to the camp that is run for young carers every year. However, I am shocked to have heard the same message for the past seven years. Young carers often struggle to stay awake, because they have been up all night. They struggle to get their homework in on time, because they have had caring responsibilities. Sadly, teachers often do not take that into account and so young carers are disadvantaged. I know that there are no simple answers, but there must be a way for us to identify young carers and give them the extra support that they require, to ensure that, as Karen Adam pointed out, they do not miss out on future job, college or university opportunities.

Young carers are among the best of us, and we owe it to them to provide us with as much support as we can. To that end, I encourage all members to sign the young carers covenant and to move forward together, towards a fairer future for young carers. It is the least that they deserve.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I, too, thank Karen Adam for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

On behalf of Scottish Labour, I thank young carers across Scotland for everything that they do, and I reiterate our support for them. We welcome the Carers Trust’s annual young carers action day and recognise the impact of the work that the trust has carried out across the United Kingdom and here in Scotland.

As the motion states, it is right that caring should not become

“a barrier to learning, earning or being able to get on in life”,

although I appreciate that that might be the challenging reality for many young carers here in Scotland. It is therefore incumbent on all of us in the Parliament to remove those barriers whenever we can.

As other members have said, it is apt that the theme of this year’s action day is “Fair futures for young carers”, because, ultimately, the issue comes down to fairness. As we have heard during the debate, young carers currently do not get a fair deal. The barriers to their learning or earning are such that taking on caring responsibilities means making sacrifices that will have lasting impacts. There is no equality or fairness in that; it is an injustice. As we have heard, we should all be determined to help to overcome that.

The Carers Trust’s most recent report showed that extremely concerning figures have emerged from research carried out in Scotland. We should ensure that we are all aware of those. Half of young carers who work struggle to balance caring duties with their paid work. More than half of them are usually or always stressed because they are young carers. Two thirds feel that the cost of living crisis always or usually affects them and their families.

Those facts represent important information that young carers are giving us, and we must take them seriously. They must act as a wake-up call, because they are not just figures; they represent the individual stories of young people across Scotland who are genuinely struggling to balance their caring duties with work and education, and who are feeling the impacts on their emotional and mental health.

Our excellent young carers should not find themselves in such a position, but it is a reality. The Government must reflect on those important pieces of information. Waiting lists for mental health services in Scotland remain far too long, and young people continue to suffer as they wait for appointments that they need urgently.

Those challenges are exacerbated by the UK Government’s handling of the economy, which has created a cost of living crisis that, as we have heard from young carers themselves, adds anxiety and stress to individuals’ and families’ situations. Governments must accept responsibility and accountability for their own discussions and actions and, of course, their failings. When they do so, we can properly engage in co-operative action and overcome those significant and worrying challenges.

A further key area that has been raised by young carers and by members during the debate is the balancing of caring responsibilities with education. Schools, colleges and universities must be more flexible in supporting young carers to be able to carry out their duties but still have the ability to achieve their goals.

I recognise that I am running out of time, but there is so much more to say on the issue. Once again, I thank Scotland’s young carers for the tremendous contribution that they make, not just to their families but right across Scotland. It is important for us to hear their voices, and Karen Adam’s securing of today’s debate has allowed us to do that. I commit my party to continuing to support a cross-party approach to the matter.

Photo of Gillian Mackay Gillian Mackay Green

I thank Karen Adam for securing this important members’ business debate. I, too, extend my gratitude to young carers across Scotland, including those who are joining us in the public gallery this afternoon, for the incredible work that they do in looking after their loved ones.

Yesterday, we celebrated young carers action day, and I commend the immense contribution that young carers make to our society when caring for their family and loved ones. As others have said, many young carers would not think twice about what it is that they do, but we need to think deeply about how we support them properly. Caring for someone should not be a barrier to equal opportunities in learning or participating in life, especially at a young age. Much too often, young carers’ lives are further complicated by education and employment systems that fail to identify and understand the diversity of their caring roles or to respond to their support needs. We need to address issues for young adult carers in that regard, too. For some, any good support that was provided at school stops when they leave, and those carers need to start again when they are at college or university or in the workplace.

Carers Trust research found that 59 per cent of young carers in Scotland care for more than 20 hours each week, with 12 per cent of them spending 50 hours or more providing unpaid care on a weekly basis. I welcome the launch by Carers Trust of the first-ever UK-wide covenant for young carers and young adult carers, which has been shaped by the views of more than 500 young carers. I thank Carers Trust for allowing me to attend the launch of the covenant earlier this week, and I encourage everyone in the chamber to sign up to it.

We heard from young carers from across the UK about their experience and what they want to see for young and young adult carers. The session was led by young carers, who did a wonderful job of articulating not only their experience but the experience that they had gathered from others. They told us that young carers need lasting and meaningful change. We must ensure that they remain at the forefront of policy development and have access to the support that they are entitled to and deserve. In Scotland, they must have a fair chance to prosper in all aspects of their lives so that they can achieve their full potential and secure a fair future.

Karen Adam is correct to say that we need to provide opportunities for those young people to be young people. I have been hugely privileged to attend the young carers festival, which allows young carers to take a break from their caring responsibilities and provides them with a space to see friends and have their voices heard.

There was also an opportunity to ask questions of MSPs, and I was struck by the number of issues that young carers wanted to ask me about. I was totally prepared for questions about caring and access to services, but many of them were asking questions about other issues completely unrelated to their caring responsibilities that they were passionate about. It struck me that that is actually what the young carers festival is partly about: allowing young people to get into things that interest them. It was an enlightening experience, even if the young carers absolutely put me through my paces and challenged my policy knowledge. If anyone here gets the chance to go to the festival, they absolutely should.

I will take this opportunity to shine a light on some of the incredible work that is going on across central Scotland that is aimed at benefiting young carers. At the Falkirk and Clackmannanshire carers centre, the organisation offers support tailored to the needs of young carers aged from eight to 18. That includes a support group, which provides monthly sessions that give young carers a rest from their caring responsibilities and a chance to connect with peers who understand their experiences.

In North and South Lanarkshire, young carers are dedicated to supporting the experiences of other young carers across the region. Their mission involves raising awareness and identifying and offering direct support to those who care for family members with illness or disability, including those who care for parents with mental health or substance abuse issues.

I extend my very best wishes to all those who are involved in this year’s young carers action day in their endeavours. Young carers action day serves as an important reminder of the invaluable contributions that young carers make to our communities and to their families, and of the urgent need for support and recognition of their vital role. Together we must amplify their voices, champion their rights and work tirelessly towards a more inclusive and supportive society, in which every young carer feels valued and empowered.

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

I also thank my colleague Karen Adam for bringing this important debate to the chamber and extend my heartfelt gratitude to all our young carers throughout Scotland, including those from South Ayrshire and East Ayrshire in my Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency. Some of them are in the gallery today. I thank all of them.

I first met the young people from South Ayrshire young carers back in June, when I attended a screening of their brilliant short film entitled “The Weekend” at South Ayrshire county buildings. I have always been in awe of the resilience, determination and love shown by our young carers, but nothing prepared me for how blown away I was to be by the film itself and by the young people when they took the time to explain to me how the film came about and gave me an insight into their daily lives. I came away totally humbled and determined to help to amplify their voices in the Parliament.

I am delighted by the success that their young carer awareness-raising film has garnered. Initially, the film was intended only for local use, but it is now raising awareness of young carers throughout Scotland and the United Kingdom. I was very impressed to learn that the film was entirely co-produced, with the young carers starring in, writing, producing and directing it. I give a big thanks to the local social enterprise film company The Iris and South Ayrshire Council for recognising the value of co-production. It empowers in a way that simply telling a story cannot.

The film is a poignant and thought-provoking illustration of the life of young carers through their own eyes. It tells the story of three young people as they navigate their lives and caring roles over a single weekend. It is important that the film contains a story about parental substance use, which the young people have been praised for including. I hope that that will help to challenge persistent stigma and encourage children and young people in such a situation to come forward for support as young carers.

The film has since received several accolades, including winning the Scottish public service award for diversity and inclusion and winning the Scotland and north-east England regional final of the Great British care awards in the unpaid carer category. The young people will head to the UK finals later this month and I am sure that members will join me in wishing them the best of luck. They are also finalists in the YouthLink Scotland awards for equality and diversity later this year.

It is important that the film is now included in continuous professional development learning modules for Education Scotland and Carers Trust Scotland. That has really helped to raise the profile of young carers locally and nationally. Through their work with schools, the film supports young people to self-identify as young carers, to ensure that they get support to achieve equity with their peers, and gives those who are not carers an insight into the lives and everyday experiences of young carers. It challenges assumptions and improves peer understanding, which is absolutely vital. The authenticity from co-production and the pioneering content have produced a resource that is changing the lives of children and families throughout the country.

I will see whether I can get the film shared with MSPs because, as the legislators of the land, it is important that we hear directly from young people. It is exciting that the young people are now working with primary-age children to make a film that is suitable for their age and stage. The young people involved in “The Weekend” are involved as peer mentors in that new project. I think that that is amazing.

On national support for young carers, the young people told me about how important it is to have protected funding for young carers at a local level and for young carer training to be made mandatory for education and social work, alongside the statutory child protection training. They need to be seen, to be heard and to be supported. We need to actively demonstrate that we care for the carers and that we all have a responsibility to ensure that those young people are supported in their caring roles and that they are supported just to be kids. That means recognising what supports need to be put in place to truly provide the equity that gives them real equality and a fair future.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I congratulate my colleague on securing this debate. It is a privilege to speak in it and I welcome the young carers who are here today.

There are around 1 million young carers aged 17 or under in the UK, so, if we extrapolate that based on population numbers, that means that there are approximately 100,000 young carers in Scotland, which I am sure is an underestimate.

I apologise at this stage in the debate to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and to those in the gallery, for duplicating any points that have already been made, but they deserve to be repeated.

Who is a young carer? That is a tricky question, because many who look after siblings or adults in their family would not identify themselves as carers and some might wish to keep quiet about it, perhaps out of fear of interference from social work.

Young carers usually know who they are, but, for public consumption, a young carer is someone under 18 who helps to look after a friend or someone in their family who is ill, disabled or misuses drugs or alcohol. They can have emotional as well as practical caring responsibilities and the level of single-handed responsibility that is sometimes placed on young carers would be daunting even for an adult. They do cleaning, laundry, washing, food shopping, lifting and cooking. They offer financial and practical management by withdrawing cash and paying bills. They give intimate care such as washing, bathing and giving medication. They do sibling care, looking after a brother or sister, and so on. The condition of the person that they care for is often not obvious, so people do not think that the young person needs help.

I understand why young carers do not want to be different from their peers or to draw attention to their caring role. Understandably, they might want to keep their identity at school or college separate from their caring role. They might feel that they cannot discuss it with their friends or they might not have an opportunity to share their story. They are worried about bullying and, as I have said, that the family might be split up and that they themselves might be taken into care. They might want their caring to be kept secret because they are embarrassed.

Some young carers look after more than one person and they might also have health issues of their own. Some begin giving care at a very young age, while others can become carers overnight.

I was once a teacher and the role of the class teacher is important. I looked at the Carers Trust toolkit for young carers in education, which is a resource for identifying and supporting young carers. They can be distracted by, for example, checking their phone, not for trivial reasons but to check that the person they care for is okay. They can become quiet and withdrawn. They get no time to study at home, due to a hectic or chaotic home life and they can come back to school with their homework undone. Should the teacher be taking them to task, or should they be working out what is behind it? Carers feel pressured to remain in the caring role rather than progressing into further education, which is a division of their loyalties.

There is helpful guidance for teachers on the Carers Trust Scotland website. The most important thing is that teachers should be aware. They might notice a change in the behaviour of one of their pupils and ask themselves what lies behind it. There is also young carers awareness training for teachers, which is so important for helping practitioners, student teachers and probationers know what to look out for.

One key thing is to change the narrative. We should celebrate young carers and the valuable work that they do. It is a positive thing to be a young carer, but it is important to be recognised for that.

There is a duty for local authorities, although I do not have time to go into that. Both Midlothian and Borders councils have guidance for young carers on their websites.

I will finish with this: it is time that we all came together to make a change and to create a fair future for young carers. The young carers covenant, which I have read, will do exactly that. That is why I have signed it.

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

I thank Karen Adam for initiating this important debate on young carers action day, and I thank all members for being here to discuss the vital contribution that young carers make to society.

As so often, my colleague Karen Adam has absolutely brought the issue to life, partly because of her lived experience. She has given us immense insight into the situation for young carers and has used her lived experience to advocate change. It has been really powerful to hear her story and the testimonies that she has shared.

Young carers action day, which took place yesterday, is a valuable annual event, not only because it puts a spotlight on the important issues that young carers face but because it allows us to hear directly from young carers themselves. In fact, more than 50 young carers are in the Parliament today to learn about how they can create change and to speak about what they need from us, as decision makers. At last year’s young carers festival, I heard first hand how this year’s theme of a fairer future for young carers is a crucial focus for many, and they expressed both their excitement and their apprehension at looking forward and planning for their future.

As I said, it is really important that the Parliament is given the opportunity to acknowledge the positive role that is played by young carers in our society, and to reflect on some of the pressures that they face. In that respect, we welcome the young carers covenant, which has been launched by the Carers Trust as part of young carers action day. The covenant will require a cross-Government commitment, so I absolutely commit to engaging with my ministerial colleagues on the Scottish Government’s signing up to it, and I encourage others who work with young carers to sign up, too.

The statements in the covenant align with the policies and actions that we already have in place to recognise and support young carers, as set out in the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 and our national carers strategy, and I am grateful for the opportunity to mention some of the actions that we are taking to support young carers and to ensure that caring is not a barrier to achieving their future goals.

In 2022, we published our Scottish Government “National Carers Strategy”. Now into the second year of implementation, the strategy sets out our approach to addressing the current issues that all carers face, as well as a long-term vision for building a sustainable future for young carers. We recognise in the strategy that young carers’ education and future prospects are incredibly important. Indeed, that is why we fully fund an education officer at Carers Trust Scotland and why we will continue to work with education colleagues to ensure that young carers are seen and supported in schools.

I agree with John Swinney and others about the flexibility and extra support that are needed for children and young people in education, and I agree with the point about raising awareness so that people self-identify as carers. Although we have a young carers identification awareness-raising campaign that runs around the young carers festival and the young carers action day, my personal view is that the system needs to be just a little bit more automatic, as that would solve a couple of problems. Very often, the person whom the young people are caring for is well known to the system—they might well be a brother or sister who is also in the education system. Why not automatically recognise and identify brothers and sisters as part of their care? Proactively offering them support means that we do not have to wait for them to identify themselves, and I am keen to pursue that issue with education colleagues.

As well as working with education colleagues, we have been working with Skills Development Scotland and employers on projects such as the Carer Positive scheme to ensure that, when young carers are ready to join the world of work, that flexibility and support continue to be available to them. Many young carers tell us that they receive invaluable support from their local carer and young carer services, so we fund the Coalition of Carers in Scotland and Carers Trust Scotland to support carer centres and young carer services and to collaborate on building capacity.

Alongside their core local funding, we provided £560,000 in 2023-24 for local carer centres to expand their support to carers, including young carers. We have provided £3.5 million specifically for short breaks. Being able to take a break as a young carer is key to ensuring that they get time to pursue their hobbies, manage their wellbeing and get other opportunities that will support them with their future goals.

I reassure Gillian Mackay and others who made the same point that we will establish a right to breaks from caring through the National Care Service (Scotland) Bill in order to support people, protect their wellbeing and ensure that caring relationships are sustained.

The bill will create a right to personalised breaks and support for any carer who is not currently able to access sufficient breaks. However, we are not waiting for the bill to be passed; we are acting now to expand easy-access short breaks ahead of the legislation. As well as the short breaks fund, we fund the Young Scot young carers package and the annual young carers festival to help young carers to have some form of break, to pursue opportunities and to have fun.

Improving support for unpaid carers is an absolute priority for our social security powers. Despite our fixed budgets and our limited powers of devolution, we have transformed social security provision in Scotland and delivered a system that is based on our principles of dignity, fairness and respect.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

The young carer grant has been a fantastic addition to the social security landscape in Scotland. The minister talks about fairness. There is a slight unfairness in eligibility. Siblings or people in the same household need to choose between themselves who applies and qualifies for the young carer grant, even if they both provide the same level of care. Will the minister consider extending the criteria slightly, so that siblings in the same household could both qualify?

Photo of Maree Todd Maree Todd Scottish National Party

Mark Griffin will be aware that social security powers do not lie in my portfolio, but I am more than happy to raise that issue with colleagues. As I said, responding to young carers’ needs will require a cross-Government approach, and I am more than happy to raise such issues and see what we can do to improve the situation.

We want to ensure that caring is not a barrier to young people succeeding in life. Since 2019, we have invested about £3.3 million and made more than 10,000 payments of our young carer grant, which is unique to Scotland and provides young carers with an annual payment of more than £350 to spend as they choose. That gives them direct control over how best to support themselves and allows them to access life opportunities and activities that are more typical for their peers.

We recognise the importance of young carers having access to education, and our recently launched carer support payment expands access to many carers in full-time education who are currently unable to get carers allowance. The payment will benefit up to 1,500 carers a year once it is available nationally.

We will continue to engage with carers of all ages, including young carers, to inform future improvements to the carer support payment. All the work that I mentioned has been guided by young carers telling us what they need, and we will continue to listen to young carers to shape our work.

I acknowledge members’ contributions. The debate has been fabulous. The issues have been brought to life, and there were lots of wonderful references to the young people in the gallery. Most important, I acknowledge the huge contribution that young carers across Scotland make. I reiterate the Scottish Government’s commitment to doing what we can to ensure that they have access to the support that they deserve when they need it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 2.30 pm.

13:33 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—