THOUSANDS of young people are being left in “desperate situations” after having their benefits cut or stopped on leaving care, research from the Children’s Society suggests. Young care-leavers are three times more likely than the general working population to find their benefits sanctioned by the Government, the charity has said.
Its latest report, The Cost of Being Care Free, published last week, states that more than 4000 benefit sanctions had been applied to young people leaving care in the past two years, resulting in a deficit of both basic goods and a financial education. Care leavers are defined as those who have lived in the care of the council for more than 13 weeks after their 14th birthday, and for at least a day after turning 16.
Almost half of councils in England are failing to offer financial and debt advice to these young people, including how to manage income and pay bills, putting thousands at risk of destitution and homelessness, the report says. “Young people leaving care, alone and with no family to support them, are falling into debt and financial difficulty due to insufficient financial education from local authorities.”
A total of 10,830 young people left care last year. Care-leavers are entitled to a number of benefits, the Children’s Society says, including Housing, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and Universal Credit. Between October 2013 and September last year, however, the Jobseeker’s Allowance of 3660 care-leavers was stopped after falling short of the necessary requirements.
Sanctions can be challenged, and 60 per cent of decisions were overturned in favour of those leaving care — more than any other group, the report states. But this suggests that the decision to sanction was incorrect in the first instance, and that hundreds of young people may be missing out.
The Government must do more to educate care leavers about their entitlements, and the regulations and procedures that follow, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, has said. “It is unacceptable that children leaving care are being failed by the very people who should be helping them.
“We see from our work the damaging effect this has, as care-leavers are going without food and other basic necessities because their benefits have been stopped. This must change. These young people lack the safety net provided by family that most children get as they become adults.”
The charity has welcomed the Government’s proposed trialling of a “yellow-card”system, in which claimants would be given a 14-day warning before a sanction is applied, and suggested that it could be trialled by care leavers.
A spokesman for the Department for Education told the BBC: “We’ve introduced a series of reforms — including allowing care-leavers to stay with their former foster carers until they are 21, and extending the entitlement to a personal adviser up to age 25 — so they don’t have to face life’s milestones alone.”
Another report released by the charity this week explores the experience of children growing up in households burdened by debt. The Damage of Debt: The impact of money worries on children’s mental health and well-being suggests that children living in families with “problem debt” are five times more likely to be at risk of having low well-being than those not facing difficulties with debt. In households facing arrears, 23 per cent of children and young people are predicted to have low well-being. In low-income families experiencing financial difficulties, the more debts a family has, the worse a child’s mental health is likely to be.
The researchers estimate that about 2.4 million children are living in families with problem debt (in arrears on a household bill or credit commitment). The report is based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study, the charity’s own well-being survey, and interviews with young people and their parents, who described stress, anxiety, and unhappiness, and being “constantly harassed by multiple creditors by telephone, email, letters and in person”. The researchers found that debt led to arguments and feelings of shame: “They blamed themselves and felt they had failed.”
Several recommendations are made, including a statutory “breathing space” to give families with children under 18 a year in which to address debt problems without facing charges, mounting interest rates, and collections and enforcement. The report argues that creditors should not use bailiffs for collecting debt from such families, citing evidence that this has a “particularly damaging impact on the emotional wellbeing of children”.
To read the first report, visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/pcr073_care-leavers-financial-exclusion-final.pdf.
To read the second report, visit