When I first saw this documentary, I was incensed by the laziness of the blind couple. (It’s important to watch the video to understand why). In short, they refuse to accept help from local services, seem ignorant to the burdens they’ve placed upon their two eldest daughters and are determined to burden them with yet another sibling to look after. One of them even attempted suicide.
A young carer is “someone aged 18 or under who helps look after a relative who has a condition, such as a disability, illness, mental health condition, or a drug or alcohol problem” (nhs.co.uk). And as the UK press often cite, when they do decide to run a story on them, young carers are the forgotten workforce, hidden army and unsung heroes of Britain’s households. Over 76,629 households were surveyed in 2017, 420 including at least one young carer in a government report in 2017. A 2011 statistic puts the number of young carers in England alone at 166,000, but there’s likely more. Most undertake practical tasks as part of their caring roles, such as cooking or cleaning and a large proportion provide nursing care, with over half giving emotional support, according to parents.
While caring does bring its rewards, young carers are more likely to be bullied, absent from school and suffer poorer health. Often, their foremost support comes from a young carer project and it’s commonplace for schools not to realise a student is a young carer. I not-so-fondly remember being lectured at school for turning up late or not doing homework, when the truth was I exhausted from my caring role. I also developed depression early on which left me washed out and demotivated, but that wouldn’t be recognised for years to come.
And it’s not easy telling people you’re a young carer. I didn’t like talking about it and I hated feeling like a ‘problem child’. I did NOT want to be a problem child. Young carers also face specific bullying with remarks such as “attention seeker” and the ignorant idea that being a young carer doesn’t actually affect you. In reality, caring young can have lasting effects. At GCSE-level, young carers perform the equivalent to nine grades lower i.e. the difference between nine Cs and nine Ds, and young carers aged between 16-18 are twice as likely as their peers to be NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training).
Although I couldn’t find statistics for this, based on my own experience as a former young carer; I believe they are more likely to come from a lower socioeconomic background. Thinking back to my six-year run as a young carer, I remember most of my friends coming from housing estates like me, parents working low-skilled jobs (if they could work) and them not enjoying nor doing well at school. If it wasn’t for Youth Action W_____ giving us opportunities, such as going to theme parks, doing a first aid course or learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, there’re many experiences we simply wouldn’t have had. I took it for granted back then but since leaving, I realised how much they did for me. Tragically, Tory austerity has meant that Youth Action W_____ and many other charities have lost funding, leaving young carers with even less respite and support.
So clearly young carers are held back and not enough is being done for them. I lost faith in the system from a young age and it propelled me into politics. Too often, mental health professionals would come in, take a look at my mother’s broken mind and the state it put us both in, and do nothing. My mother was too complex, the resources too scarce… It left me angry. The lack of intervention makes me angry, especially when careless parents abuse their children into caring roles, as demonstrated in the video above. No one’s putting carers’ interests first and children are being let down.
I may have grown up and left home, but I still consider myself a young carer. It’s not a role you pick up and drop, it’s a part of you. And in an age of intersectional thinking and the multi-layered nature of identity, young carers ought to be included in the conversation. We ought to voice our frustrations and bring our experiences into the public consciousness so that the next generation of carers have it better. They need more funding, more support, more recognition. Most importantly, they need to know that they’re not the only ones who care.
Young Carers – Background