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Care leavers

Care leavers set for grave financial struggles as cost of living soars

Close-up of hands opening a wallet. The words "Cost of Living Crisis" are overlaid on the top.

Care-experienced young people are already vulnerable, but current crisis will tip many into poverty and ‘set them up to fail’, warn charity leaders.

In an open letter led by Catch22’s National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum, a network of over 125 local authorities promoting the development of quality leaving care services, the charities warn that many care experienced young people are already financially vulnerable.

The letter states:

“We are extremely concerned about the impact that the cost of living rises will have on care experienced young people. The spring statement was disappointing in that it contained no specific measures to help this group. While the rises are impacting everyone and particularly those on low incomes or benefits, young people aged 18-25 who are leaving care will be particularly impacted.”

The charities highlight a number of factors that mean the cost of living crisis will hit young care leavers particularly hard:

  • Financial independence: Care leavers are expected for be financially independent from the age of 18 – whereas young people more generally are now not leaving the family home until the age of 24.
  • Mental health concerns: Nearly half of looked after children meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder (compared to 1 in 10 children generally)*. There are concerns that without further assistance, the current cost of living crisis will have a significant impact on care leavers’ mental health
  • Poorer support networks – Care experienced young people generally have a poorer support network, meaning they have few people to turn to when in financial crisis.
  • Digital Poverty: Prior to the cost of living rises, we have seen examples of care leavers choosing between purchasing food and WiFi. Digital access is vital to engaging with education, employment, health services and to staying connected with family and friends. The current cost of living increases will put more care leavers into digital poverty, impacting their ability to take positive steps around education and work.
  • Under 25 Universal Credit Rates: Care experienced young people under 25 year olds are only eligible for the Under 25 Universal Credit rates (£61.05 from 1st April), despite having to manage household bills.

One care-experience young person said:

“Just to make it clear, I am working 2 jobs and still worried about not being able to cover costs from the living rise, so I can just imagine how anxious others are feeling.”

Catch22 this week launched its own Cost of Living Fund appeal, which aims to help the hardest hit individuals and families get through the coming months. Funds raised will be used buy food, basic necessities, home equipment, children’s toys, white goods and digital equipment.

The letter calls for two immediate actions that could help young care leavers:

  1. Care Leavers to be eligible for the over-25 rate of Universal Credit from the age of 18 – in view of the fact that they are then deemed financially independent and often responsible for managing the costs of running a household.
  2. Ringfence a proportion of the Household Support Fund going to councils for supporting care experienced young people aged 18-25 years old, for leaving care teams to manage.

The letter states that:

“We are now in a position where, without additional support, we are setting up care leavers to fail when they turn 18 and become financially independent. The under 25 Universal Credit rate will clearly be insufficient to cover household bills, food, travel and digital access, with the increased cost of living.”

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