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Young carers returning to school



This is my fortnightly column which is published first in the Fife Herald, East Fife Mail, and St Andrews Citizen.


When writing my last column I was thinking of the young people all over the country, and their teachers, receiving their exam results and preparing for the new school year. Now, with that school year underway for most, my thoughts have turned to the children and young people who often have many less opportunities than others – our young carers.


Caring for a loved one during illness or old age is a perfectly routine – even universal – experience. But for a child or young person, who ideally should be focussing on their own growth, their own future and with their own support system, this ordinary act of love can have considerable long-term consequences. Often young carers make decisions based not on their own best interests but of those of the person they care for: not to go to college or university, to stay at home, to spend their student loans meeting family needs, not their own. In short, setting themselves up for a life where they miss out on the fulfilment and financial security of following their own paths.


There are many efforts already to help. I was impressed when visiting St Andrews last week, to learn about the young carers support programme they offer with Fife College, through which children in North East Fife from Primary 7 upwards can get extra help with schooling and ultimately accessing higher education. If you are or know a young person who would benefit from this, they should contact the university on first-chances@st-andrews.ac.uk.

But there is still so much to be done. It is vital that schools have comprehensive policies for identifying and supporting young carers, even where they themselves haven’t yet seen themselves in this way. All colleges and universities, not just in Fife but over the whole of Scotland, need to provide extra wrap around support for young carers, especially in their first year when drop out rates are at their highest. And the Government should take simple but vitally important steps, like extending free bus travel to those under 25 needing additional financial support.


A significant error by governments is thinking that young people get financial support at home. At Westminster this plays out in Universal Credit, where under 25s receive a lower rate – even if they themselves are parents or carers. In Scotland with the SNP government, I worry about SAAS funding, with bursaries frozen and no explicit support available to young carers. This short-sightedness must be corrected. Young carers are not and should never be an afterthought.


The end of summer is approaching, and whilst I’m always wistful at the start of a new school year (where has the time gone?) there is something eternally exciting at the idea of a fresh start. I look forward to getting back to Westminster, full of the ideas and issues which I’ve heard about from constituents over the summer. If there is something pressing you haven’t had a chance to speak with me about over the last few weeks do get in touch – my team and I are always here to help.

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