In August 2022, the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum (NLCBF) produced a report on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on care experienced young people. To inform the report, we used feedback from a consultation with a group of care experienced young people at the Young Person’s Benchmarking Forum event in May 2022 and from Leaving Care Practitioners in June 2022.
Challenges reported by care experienced young people
Care experienced young people told us they were facing challenges in the following areas:
- Housing problems
- Bills: ‘Choosing between heating and eating’
- Shopping for essentials
- Aspirations: ‘Unknown future,’ ‘Not being able to save,’ ‘It’s a difficult time to start a career,’ ‘Decisions about having a family,’
- Health: ‘Staying healthy and being able to afford activities that support good mental and physical health.’
- Young Parents: ‘Giving my son the lifestyle he deserves’
- Mental Health and Worry
- Isolation ‘Not being able to see my loved ones as much,’ ‘Loneliness.’
- Travel: ‘Affording fuel to get to and from work’
- Hobbies: ‘Giving up things that you enjoy whether it be food or social things.’
“[The biggest challenge I am currently facing around the cost of living rises is] how to work out how to balance the budget when there is not enough money to afford all essential items – bills, rent, food, toiletries, clothing, petrol, car expenses and repairs.”
– Care experienced young person
The impact of the Cost of Living crisis as seen by Leaving Care Practitioners
Leaving care practitioners confirmed these challenges on the impact they were seeing of the cost of living on young people they are supporting. Adding to the list above, leaving care practitioners noticed young people becoming more vulnerable to exploitation, as they became more economically insecure, and a crashing of the aspirations that had been built through continuous investment in this group.
The report builds a picture of the current support available that leaving care teams are providing including budgeting support, seeking discounts from utility providers, signposting to local organisations and offering crisis support from the local authority’s Household Support Fund allocation. Some Local Authorities had ringfenced part of the Household Fund for young people leaving care but some local authorities were struggling to do this. The clear message from leaving care professionals was that more needed to be done.
“It is affecting the overall wellbeing of the young people I work with – And it is very hard to be positive when you can not fix / financially support the concerns they are addressing.”
– Leaving Care Practitioner
The Cost of Living crisis is already having a significant impact on financial wellbeing, ability to secure and maintain tenancies; mental health; connectedness and aspirations of care experienced young people. We need to address this quickly and thoroughly and take into account expected further price increases. It is extremely concerning to see the impact early on in the crisis (May ’22) and to consider the long-term impact this will have on areas like aspirations which have been in invested in throughout a young person’s care journey.
Current levels of benefits are insufficient for care experienced young people to pay bills and purchase essential items, additional support is required. Feedback from both young people on benefits and those with low incomes is that the current level of support from universal credit for 18-25 year olds is insufficient to manage household bills with, even with careful budgeting.
We can assume that the majority of care experienced young people are now in ongoing financial difficulty. Crisis support is no longer sufficient and we need long term solutions which increase income or reduce outgoings and offer peace of mind and financial security. Care experienced young people struggled financially prior to the cost of living crisis and leaving care teams were able to support them with crisis support payments or gas/electric vouchers etc. The evidence we have collected shows that this is no longer sufficient as even with careful budgeting young people do not have enough to mage their bills and pay for essentials.
Based on the evidence we have four recommendations for policy makers:
- Universal Credit: Make all care experienced people eligible for the over 25 Rate Universal Credit from the age of 18, recognising that they are financially independent and often managing household bills
- Universal Discounts: Reduce outgoings for young people leaving care through universal discounts to travel and utility bills, in line with corporate parenting.
- Educational Bursary: Introduce an educational bursary for care experienced young people aged 18+ in Further education to support living costs and the affordability of continuing in education.
- Household Support Fund: All Local Authorities to ringfence part of their Household Support fund for care experienced young people & national government to issue guidance to support this.