In the Catch22Minutes podcast, we delve into some of today’s major social challenges. We speak to frontline experts, industry leaders and young people, in pursuit of ideas for reforming public services.
With the recent release of our manifesto: 22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities, our fourth season focuses on some of our key policy asks. It is presented by Catch22’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, Stella Tsantekidou.
In this episode of Catch22Minutes, we’ll be discussing the campaign to make care experience a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010.
Many care experienced people face discrimination, stigma, and prejudice in their day-to-day lives. Public perceptions of care experience centre on the idea that children are irredeemably damaged and that can lead to discrimination and assumptions being made. We want to see the next Government commit to supporting care experienced young people through bold national policies, so they are given the best chance to succeed in life.
Joining Stella to discuss is Terry Galloway, Trustee of NYAS and Become, co-founder of Care Leaver Offer, and campaigner for equal opportunities for people who are in or have experience of care, and Hannah McCowen, manager of the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum.
Stella Tsantekidou: Hello everyone, this is Stella, Head of Policy and Campaigns for Catch22. The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which was headed by Josh MacAllister and published in May 2022, had a final report and a recommendation, which included that the government should make care experience a protected characteristic and new legislation should be passed which broadens corporate parent responsibilities across a wider set of public bodies and organisations. At Catch22, this is now one of our manifesto asks for the next general election.
Many care experienced people face discrimination, stigma, and prejudice in their day-to-day lives. Public perceptions of care experience centre on the idea that children are irredeemably damaged and that can lead to discrimination and assumptions being made.
With me to discuss this today, and more specifically the campaign to make care experience a protected characteristic is Terry Galloway, campaigner for equal opportunities for people who are in or have experience of care, and Hannah McCowen, manager of the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum.
I would like to start with you, Terry, and if you could tell me a bit more about yourself, why you campaign on this issue, what’s your background, and what do you do?
Terry Galloway: Yeah. So, my name’s Terry Galloway and I am the co-founder of Care Leaver Offer. I also run a housing association providing housing and jobs programmes for care leavers, and also an estate agency, and I’m a trustee of Become and also trustee of NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service).
I started the campaign in a nutshell because the care system is broken, and it was a kind of promise to my sister that I made one time when we’d just left a funeral and we’re in her flat, and she was telling me, you know, “Terry, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be next.” And I tried to give her some hope because, at that point in time she’d lost her children to the care system, she was heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I tried to really give a hope that you know what, let’s use our trauma. Let’s use what we’ve been through for the positive and make it so that it has meaning and that we can change the system for the better for other people.
But unfortunately, she was next, and she got murdered by her boyfriend in a domestic violence incident. So, at the time of making that promise, we didn’t know what it was we was going to do. We didn’t know what would be the catalyst or what would be the single issue, the single thing that could potentially change the care system. But now we found it, which is why I’m running this campaign.
Stella Tsantekidou: Thanks for sharing, Terry, this is an amazing story and I’m so glad that you are honouring your sister’s memory by doing this campaign.
Hannah, would you like to introduce yourself as well? And then I would like to ask both of you bit more about the rationale behind the campaign and how it’s been developing. So, Hannah, if I could jump over to you.
Hannah McCowen: Yeah. Thanks, Stella. Yeah, I’m Hannah. I manage The National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum for Catch22, and the forum is made up of 132 leaving care teams across England. So over 85% of leaving care teams across England are represented.
And the aim of the forum is really to share good practise and to improve the services and support that young people receive as they leave care and right at the heart of what we do is our Young People’s Benchmarking Forum, which is made up of care experienced young people and we really want to raise their voices and their priorities and shape our work around that. And this is one of the areas that that they’ve definitely spoken up about getting the protected characteristic for care experienced people. And, there’s wide support across our steering group which is made-up of leaving care managers as well.
Stella Tsantekidou: So NLCBF (National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum) is a very important organisation for connecting policymakers with people with experience of care and making their voices heard.
Terry, if I could start with you. Can you tell me what was the rationale behind campaigning to make care experience a protected characteristic? You’ve already mentioned why you started campaigning on this issue and you have this very powerful, personal story. Could you tell me a bit more about the rationale for the specific policy ask of making care experience protected characteristic? Why is it that this specific ask would help people like yourself and your sister and the people that you campaign for?
Terry Galloway: I think the biggest thing that this is going to do for care experienced people, is give them voice in places where they’ve never been heard before, and because, you know, we’re here in, in this chat now and we understand the care system, you know, we’re part of the care system bubble. But outside of that bubble, where all the barriers and all the discrimination is happening against care experienced people, it’s those people that need to be hearing our voice. It’s those people that when they create policy and they design services for care experienced people, it’s those people that need to be taking account of us and our barriers.
So, with a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010, it basically means that when decisions are being made, or systems are being designed that they have to do what’s known as an equality impact assessment and that equality impact assessment is the mechanism that people outside the care system bubble understand because they’ve had it since 2010. They’re already doing, and they already have these systems in place.
One of the big things that the government are trying to say is that strengthening corporate parenting is going to fix this problem of stigma, but it’s not just a problem of stigma in terms of direct discrimination. You know, like “you’re too smart for a care kid”” or you’re not going to be able to handle this job because, you know, you’d be off all the time because you got loads of trauma from growing up in care.” That kind of stuff is direct discrimination. But when we’re talking about systemic system design, we need to be heard and we need to be seen within that policy.
And so that’s really why I’m really pushing on the protected characteristics because inside that policy, that’s where the system can get changed. And in terms of the corporate parenting, that definitely goes hand in hand. And I 100% support the government in strengthening that. But we only have to look to Scotland to see that actually, corporate parenting has been in Scotland since 2014 and it hasn’t created the systemic change that we need.
The other point to make on this is that this is actually a reserve matter for Westminster. So, protected characteristics not only affects England, it also affects Scotland and Wales. So, this campaign is a UK-wide campaign.
Stella Tsantekidou: So basically, you are saying that making it protected characteristic would force the government and organisations and local government to take this into account.
Terry Galloway: Yeah, it will. It’ll force them. It’ll provide the mechanism as well because the reality is people generally care. And it’s not until they become aware of what’s actually going on that they, you know, they’ll empathise. And then we’ll get a cultural shift, we’ll get a change in attitudes towards care experienced people which will automatically reduce the stigma.
But the other great thing about it, is the fact that the people carrying out equality impact assessments outside of the care system bubble have other priorities. So, when they’ve got those other priorities, they’re not going to be able to help themselves, but use the mitigations that they use for care experienced people for their ordinary clients and customers. So, in effect we will get systemic change and and equitable equality for all as a result. And that will mean that care experienced people won’t have to wave this flag to say “I’m care experienced” to benefit from a from a changing system design.
Stella Tsantekidou: And in what ways are care experienced people different from other people? Why should people with experience of care have this distinct mechanism to help them? Why do they need the extra support?
Terry Galloway: It is what it is. We need equitable access to equality and care experienced people didn’t decide for themselves to go into care. It kind of happened for them. It wasn’t a choice. And because of that, then there are barriers out there and there’s systems that really push against care experienced people.
You know, care experienced people are 70% more likely to die prematurely than any other group. And when you do the numbers, that’s 20 years on average off our lifespan, you know. It’s a real big issue. You know, we’re dying out there. And the problem is when we die, you know outside of the care system bubble, it’s never really attributed to the trauma and and the barriers that we face as care experienced people.
You know, when my sister was murdered, there was not a single mention of care experience in all the press that came as a result. So, when you look at these real horrific headlines outside of the care system bubble, in a lot of times it’s a care experienced person that’s behind those headlines, you know, so we’ve got to stop this from, you know, we’ve got to stop this.
Stella Tsantekidou: So, what is it about care experience? And Hannah, if you would like to come in here as well, what is it about care experience that makes life so much more difficult?
Hannah McCowen: I think there’s a lot of things here, Stella. Some can be due to trauma that people may have faced before they came into care or you know the reasons why they came into care, but also just being in the care system can be quite traumatic in itself.
We then expect young people leaving care to become independent far earlier than their peers. To become financially independent after the age of 18, and even though with leaving care teams there is support up to the age of 25. You know, we’re putting young people in, in challenges that, you know, the average young person now leaves their own parents’ home at the age of 27. So, we’re in a completely different, you know, different challenges there.
I also think there’s a lot of the challenges that leaving care professionals find is outside of the Council, like those other government departments and public bodies, like the mental health services like housing, the Home Office around supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people, they don’t necessarily understand those challenges. And that’s where, you know, getting the protected characteristic and also, getting the corporate responsibilities in place would really, really help.
So, I think yeah, the challenges are right across young people’s lives and obviously we see care experienced people doing amazing things. We work with fantastic young people in our Young People’s Benchmarking Forum. I think especially at the moment with the cost of living crisis, like we’ve done a big piece of work around that, we’ve spoken to over 450 young people, and just the impact that that’s having on this group of young people is massive in terms of mental health, in terms of being able to sustain accommodation, being able to keep in touch with friends and family. So, all of those sorts of big challenges that we’re all facing are impacting care experienced young people even more.
Stella Tsantekidou: And Terry, do you find politicians are receptive to that message? Do you find them being convinced this is a policy that is worth it for them to pursue?
Terry Galloway: I do, you know, with the campaign so far. We’ve got, you know, 63 councils that have now passed the motion. When you look at the numbers, that’s, you know, 33% of the UK population is now living in a Council area, geographical area that treats care experience as if it were a protected characteristic. So that’s very much an understanding there. But there is still a lot of work to do because, although it is a campaign, we have to demonstrate the impact and really do some equality impact assessments in areas of policy that we can really demonstrate better outcomes and saving money. Because the reality is, every child that comes into care, costs the state £1.2 million. And the problem is when they cost the state that money, it’s not necessarily the person who’s delivering the service at the beginning that saves that money. So, until you can see the bigger picture of what’s going on.
Like we did a model the other day for a housing association, what an equality impact assessment might look like for a housing association, and the start of the process is where the housing association wants to change its design or come up with a new policy. And that policy was to reduce evictions and reduce antisocial behaviour. So as part of their system design, they do an equality impact assessment at the beginning and find that care experienced people are disproportionately represented in those ASB (Anti Social Behaviour) numbers and the eviction numbers.
So, what that then means is that this housing association, who has no corporate parenting responsibilities at the moment, and also doesn’t, you know… basically, this housing association then goes off to hear the voice of care experienced people, and then they find out that actually they’re isolated, they find out that people are taking advantage of them because they’re moved into properties where they’re not fully furnished, or they’ve not got curtains up and stuff like that. So, people might come and offer to put curtains up and then end up moving into the property and then selling drugs and causing antisocial behaviour.
So, when we model this particular journey of a case study of a care leaver, it turns out that from the age of 18, the cost to the state for a three-year period was £232,000. Okay, so the actual money for the housing association was around £6,800 what they would have saved. But by doing the equality impact assessment, they realised that if they put in a mentoring scheme, plus a jobs programme, plus a bit of a maintenance programme for that care leaver, which would have cost £10,400, then the total spend would have been £37,000 with a net saving of £195,000, you know and we’ve got all this on a diagram there.
Now, for normal voters, for the general population out there who are watching their councils go bankrupt, and they’re driving along roads with potholes, where do they think that money is actually going to? At the moment, it’s going into the care system you know, so if we can fix the care system, then those voters can start having their potholes filled.
Stella Tsantekidou: There are so many examples in public policy about where prevention would have been so much cheaper and would have worked so much better in the long run. I was reading the other day how basically having someone incarcerated costs more than sending them to Eton.
Terry Galloway: Yeah, yeah.
Stella Tsantekidou: Which just makes you think, if only we had invested this money to begin with. Of course, there are people who are violent, who should be in prison and there is nothing you can do about it, but how many people are languishing in prisons because they were never given the right opportunities to begin with.
Terry Galloway: One of the big things with having it as a protected characteristic is the equality monitoring, So, at this moment in time, the government are trying to make this argument, that care experienced people will feel stigmatised if it becomes a protected characteristic.
Now the Equality Act was designed to reduce stigma. Okay, so one of the big things that these system designers, that I’m going to call them, is they don’t actually know. We’ve asked the government, how many people are on Universal Credit, for instance, that are care experienced, and they don’t know. People who are running these services don’t actually know who is care experienced. When they realise that actually disproportionately in some of these places like prison, like NHS (National Health Service), like mental health services, for care experienced people of all ages, they’re going to find that we’re disproportionately represented. And once they realise that, it’s about “what’s in it for me.”
You know, everybody has their own agenda. So, if you’re running a service outside the care system bubble and you realise that most of the people that you’re serving are care experienced, then you’re going to take an interest. So, with a protected characteristic, you can do equality monitoring, which is not putting a tag on somebody. It’s just literally asking the question confidentially and not basically attributing what you say to your file as it were. So, when you apply for a job, you’ll have a separate form that says ‘this is confidential. It doesn’t go with your paperwork; it gets taken away.’ And that’s purely so that they can see who have those protected characteristics in their service. And once we get that, then it’s going to change.
Stella Tsantekidou: If it’s not measured, it’s not improved. You know, Terry, I’m very glad I invited you to this podcast because I was actually sceptical about making care experience a protected characteristic until recently, because for me it sounded like one of these things that can be just a checking exercise. Just one more thing. Just something symbolic rather than something that would bring about actual change for the quality of life of people with care experience.
But the way you describe it is very convincing because, yes, you are quite right. Once this starts, once we start realising the impact and you make the connection between all the other services, then you can make a better case for why you need to improve the opportunities for people with care experience.
Hannah, sorry. Is there anything you would like to add as well to this to this point, Hannah?
Hannah McCowen: Something that me and Terry have spoken about, and it comes up all the time, is just making sure where councils are adopting protected characteristic that it means something and then it gets taken forward and I know Terry’s doing like loads of work in this area in terms of bringing councils together to say, this is how to take it forward.
That’s what young people are saying to us, you know, What difference is it making? That’s what local authorities are saying to us is, what difference is it making? And that’s what we need to keep pushing towards is saying right, you’ve got the protected characteristic in place now in your local authority. What does that mean? And making sure that’s carried through.
Terry Galloway: Yeah, it’s absolutely crucial that we get impacts from this because we’ve been let down enough times. You know, we’ve been promised change enough times throughout the decades, you know, so it’s absolutely crucial that impact comes from it.
And the thing that’s quite inspiring to me, and I’m buzzing thinking about it, is this is actually bigger. This is bigger than care experienced people. This is about equality for all because, you know, to get the impact that we need and the impact that we deserve, we’re going to have to change culture in how we approach system design. Because ultimately this is going to come down to government. This is going to come down to political will to change the system. But what we have to do is give them and empower them with the information and the resources that they need to make those real, crucial decisions.
Because, like, I’ve got a big diagram of that case study and that journey, you know, showing all the costs, all the individual costs where it was £232 000 from 18 that included three domestic violence incidents, 17 ASB incidents, DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) Universal Credit, supported accommodation complex eviction. So we mapped it all out. But you know, for the actual housing association, the saving is very small. Yeah. So therefore, it doesn’t make fiscal sense for the housing association to introduce that policy. So, we’re only going to get a better system design if you can see clearly, visually, what’s being affected by it and then the politicians can come together across government to kind of change and and implement the policy that we’re going to need. And when they do that, they’re going to do it for everybody, not just care experienced people.
So, in a way, this is just an excuse to, to change and become, you know, become a better society for all.
Stella Tsantekidou: That’s a great argument to close, Terry. Thank you very much for joining us and thank you, Hannah, as well.