Young carers in Scotland report being pushed further into poverty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, new research by University of the West of Scotland (UWS), as part of the UWS-Oxfam Partnership, has revealed.
The report, entitled ‘Young, caring and struggling to make ends meet: the worsening economic circumstances of Scotland’s young carers during Covid-19’, found that young carers’ and their families’ financial difficulties were exacerbated during the pandemic, with half of those surveyed saying they have been left with no choice but to use food banks within the last year.
The report, which seeks to provide a timely snapshot into the unique individual circumstances of young carers in Scotland, is based on interviews and a qualitative survey with young people, aged 13-17, who help to look after a family member at home.
The research suggests the financial peril facing young carers and their families has worsened during the pandemic, with some household members being made redundant, having to work fewer hours, or facing a reduction in their income due to the furlough scheme. Some family members are also putting in more hours of care to cover the lack of support services available during the pandemic.
Dr Chloe Maclean, Lecturer in Social Sciences, and Dr Nicola Hay, Associate Lecturer in Social Sciences, from UWS, co-authored the report.
Dr Maclean said: “Covid-19 has created challenges for many people; however, young carers have had a particularly difficult time. Work by organisations such as the Carers Trust has shown that young carers’ mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, whilst their caring responsibilities have only increased. Our research demonstrates the financial challenges young carers have faced.
We don’t often think of children taking on roles which include looking after the family finances, but this study demonstrates that young carers have been forced to assess and worry about their household’s financial situation, looked for paid employment, and limit what they eat, buy, or do to help make ends meet. These are not actions that children in Scotland should have to take.
Dr Chloe Maclean, Lecturer in Social Sciences at UWS
Some of the young carers who participated in the research report taking on extra paid work during the pandemic to address income gaps. This required balancing a combination of paid work, care work, and schoolwork.
Lou*, a 14-year-old young carer who took part in the study, said: “Sometimes we have no money to do the weekly food shopping, so you have to spend differently – you can’t get all the stuff that you want. We always have to be careful with what we spend.”
Some additional measures are in place to support those providing unpaid care in Scotland, however, the research suggests these are insufficient. The researchers make a series of recommendations to increase specific financial and other forms of support to young carers, while increasing the overall incomes of households in which someone requires care.
The UWS-Oxfam Partnership is also working with Scottish Care, One Parent Families Scotland, the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and the seven National Carer Organisations to develop a blueprint for a new National Outcome on valuing and investing in all forms of care work for inclusion within the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework.
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This research confirms what many carers across Scotland have known for a very long time: that there’s often an unacceptable poverty price for selflessly looking after a loved one. However, the experiences shared in this research by young carers is particularly concerning.
“If the new Scottish Government is serious about building a more caring country, then it should create a new National Outcome focused on valuing and investing in all types of care to drive measurable policy and spending action ensuring that no one – and particularly no young person – is left in poverty as a consequence of caring.”
Read the full report.