The Scottish Government has an overall aim that carers are supported on a consistent basis to allow them to continue caring, if that is their wish, in good health and wellbeing, allowing for a life of their own outside of caring.
The Young Carer Grant was launched in 2019 with the overall aim of helping young carers to improve their own quality of life by taking part in opportunities which are the norm for their non-caring peers. It is also intended to provide some recognition of their unpaid caring role. It consists of a one-off payment (£305.10 in 2020/21) which can be applied for annually by young carers aged 16, 17 or 18.
This report presents the findings of qualitative research with young carers, and stakeholders who work with young carers, exploring their experiences of Young Carer Grant. It was commissioned by the Scottish Government to inform the interim evaluation of the grant, and carried out by Ipsos MORI Scotland between November 2020 and March 2021.
Aims and methods
The overarching aim of the research was to explore and understand the experience of, and impact of, Young Carer Grant for those who received it in the first 18 months of the benefit.
This project was qualitative in nature and is based on 22 in-depth interviews with young carers (20 of whom were recipients of Young Carer Grant) and six interviews with stakeholders. Interviews lasted between 45 minutes and one hour and were conducted via telephone or Zoom between 14th December 2020 and 26th February 2021.
How young carers used the grant
The young carers we spoke to were generally clear that it was up to them how they spent the money.
They used it in a wide range of ways and in very much the same ways as teenagers in general tend to spend their money: on clothes, socialising with friends, putting it into savings (e.g for driving lessons), on electronic devices, on hobbies and on presents for family. More execptionally, they spent it on rent or food.
Those who had received the grant after COVID-19 restrictions came into force were less likely to have spent the money on socialising with friends.
The impact of the grant
Young Carer Grant had a positive impact on young carers' ability to take part in opportunities that are the norm for their non-caring peers. It enabled them to purchase things and take part in activities (notably socialising with friends) that they would not otherwise have been able to afford.
If they had not received the grant, participants generally indicated that they would have had to go without all or some of the things they purchased and missed out on the activities they had been able to take part in.
Almost all participants reported a positive (albeit not necessarily a very large) impact on their mental wellbeing, mainly by reducing stress and increasing confidence.
The impact on young carers' physical health was somewhat limited but there were examples of participants spending some of their grant on things that would benefit it.
There was evidence of the grant helping to increase young carers' sense of choice and control over their lives. Most immediately, they were generally clear that it was up to them how they spent the grant and that, in the absence of the grant, they would have had to go without all or some of the things they purchased. More broadly, there was also evidence of it increasing young carers' sense of control over their lives, by making them feel more independent, more confident, less anxious and by enabling them to get better at saving.
Young carers had mixed views on whether receiving the grant had helped them feel more recognised. Some felt that it had made no difference but, more commonly, young carers did feel that it had helped, at least a little. There was a sense in which both the introduction and existence of the grant, and the fact that they had been deemed eligible to receive it, provided recognition and validation.
Stakeholders felt that the grant had the potential to open up access to other support (by encouraging people to find out if they were young carers; through sign-posting applicants to other services; and by encouraging applications for other support in the future).
However, there is a limit to what a financial payment can do and the grant had no direct impact on some of the negative aspects of being a young carer that were most commonly mentioned by participants: a lack of free time and anxieties about the health of their cared-for person.
Experiences of the application process
Recipients of the grant generally found the application process to be easy and straightforward. Those who had experience of applying for other financial support felt the process for Young Carer Grant was easier in comparison.
Young carers typically applied online and found this to be convenient and accessible.
When asked if there were any difficult parts of the application process, recipients mentioned that the length of the application could be off-putting and there were some questions where they had to get input from their parents or the person they cared for. However, neither of these were seen as major deterrants to applying by participants.
The extent to which young carers relied on support to apply for the grant was mixed. While there were participants who completed their application independently, it was common for members of young carer organisations to be proactive in offering advice and support. Stakeholders reported a high degree of variability in the amount of support they had to provide to young carers engaging in the application process.
There were mixed experiences among participants who identified as having learning or processing difficulties. One participant with dyslexia found the application easier than they were expecting, while another who said he had difficulty with reading and writing found the idea of applying on his own intimidating. Stakeholders indicated that young carers with learning difficulties often needed extra support.
Barriers to applying for or receiving the grant
Young carers and stakeholders identified a lack of awareness of the grant as a major barrier to those eligible to apply. There was a view that Young Carer Grant was not widely known about, and this would especially affect 'hidden carers' who were not engaged with young carer services.
There was a suggestion that the grant could be advertised more, particularly on social media. Stakeholders emphasised the importance of using inclusive language when promoting the grant, in order to reach eligible young people who may not identify as young carers themselves.
Among recipients, there could be some initial reluctance to take up the grant due to how they perceived themselves and their caring role. For example, a perception that other people needed the money more than they did or not wanting their cared-for person to be seen as a 'burden' they had to be compensated for.
Stakeholders highlighted that a lack of consent from parents or the cared-for person could be a barrier. They thought the main reasons for a lack of consent were a fear that Young Carer Grant would affect other family members' benefit entitlements, a fear of social services becoming involved, or a general lack of acceptance of a young persons' carer status. Stakeholders explained that cultural values may mean some minority ethnic families may be less likely to accept or fully understand the term 'young carer'.
One non-recipient in this study did not complete their application because of difficulties meeting application deadlines. Stakeholders provided further evidence that difficulties with the application process were a barrier to many other young carers, specifically those living in chaotic households where it is difficult for them to find the evidence they need in order to apply.
While there was an acknowledgement that there is a limited amount of money, the rule that only one young carer can apply for Young Carer Grant per cared-for person, known as the 'one carer rule' for the remainder of this report, was generally seen as unfair by stakeholders and young carers. There was a suggestion that younger siblings or less confident young carers, who shared caring responsibilties, would be disproportionately disadvantaged as a result of this rule.
There was also concern among stakeholders that the eligibility criteria for receiving Young Carer Grant was excluding too many young carers with significant caring responsibilities. These concerns centred predominantly on the requirement that the cared-for person be in receipt of particular benefits.
Implications for policy
Young carers and stakeholders welcomed the introduction of Young Carer Grant and were broadly positive about the application process. It appears to be achieving most of its immediate aims for recipients. However, the research identified a number of potential improvements which would increase the impact of the grant:
- Raising awareness: Stakeholders highlighted that a lack of awareness of the grant was a particular barrier for 'hidden carers' who are not engaged with support services. Young carers and stakeholders both suggested improved advertising, specifically on social media. There was also a strong appetite for more promotion in schools.
- Tackling misconceptions and providing reassurance: There were a number of misconceptions about the grant and the eligibility criteria which might deter some young carers from applying and might deter their parents from assisting or encouraging them. Clarification and reassurance about the following points in promotional materials and on the website could increase uptake: reinforcing the fact that it is entirely up to the young carer how they spend the money and that there is no need to produce receipts or explain and justify how they have spent it; providing reassurances that Young Carer Grant would have no impact on other benefits received by the young carer or their cared-for person; reinforcing the fact that the grant is available to 16, 17 and 18 year olds.
In addition, there were cultural barriers among some minority ethnic communities both in terms of seeing someone as a 'young carer' and accessing support. Stakeholders highlighted a general need to provide culturally sensitive services and information, including on Young Carer Grant.
- Simplifying the application process: While the application form itself was seen as relatively straightforward, there was a suggestion that it could be simplified further. It was noted that the current wording is similar to the Carer's Allowance form, but because Young Carer Grant is a different kind of benefit it could be less formal and more 'young person friendly'. Stakeholders highlighted that it was important to make the grant as accessible as possible for those with learning difficulties or those for whom English is not their first language.
There was a view among participants who had applied more than once that subsequent applications were quicker because they could carry over some information from their original application. They felt it would be beneficial to make young carers aware of this, to make them more likely to reapply for Young Carer Grant in future. There was also a suggestion that the process could be streamlined further for subsequent applications, for example, being able to save evidence submitted as part of the initial application.
- Sensitive handling of unsuccessful applications: While a successful application made some young carers feel more recognised, there was a concern from a stakeholder that it may have the opposite effect on people who apply but find they are not eligible - they may feel less recognised than they did before. Moreover, the experience may discourage them for applying for other forms of support in the future. It is therefore very important that unsuccessful applications are handled sensitively and applicants understand that, while they may not (currently) be eligible for Young Carer Grant, there are other services available for young carers, and they should not be deterred from accessing them. This would also be an opportunity to sign-post to other services.
- Reviewing the 'one carer rule': While there was an acknowledgement that there is a limited amount of money, the 'one carer rule' was generally seen as unfair by young carers and stakeholders. There was a suggestion that younger siblings or less confident young carers would be disadvantaged because older and/or more confident siblings would establish a right to the grant first. The young carer who misses out on the grant may feel less valued (possibly less valued than they felt before they were aware of the grant) and this could lead them to believe they are less of a young carer than the person who successfully applied for the grant, or question their young carer status entirely – with reduced confidence in their carer status discouraging them for applying for support as a carer in the future.
- Reviewing the benefits criteria: There was concern among stakeholders that the requirement that the cared-for person is in receipt of certain benefits was excluding too many young carers with significant caring responsibilities. Stakeholders highlighted that benefits may not always be a reliable measure of how much somebody relies on support from a young carer. There was a view that the benefits requirement could present a particular barrier to minority ethnic young carers, as people in these communities can be less likely to access this kind of disability support.
- Reviewing the upper age limit: Stakeholders were generally supportive of the age criteria. However, there was a suggestion that young adult carers in full-time education would benefit from receiving Young Carer Grant as they would not be eligible for Carer's Allowance.
One of the main challenges of being a young carer is the lack of time to relax, 'do their own thing' and spend time with friends. Although Young Carer Grant gave recipients the opportunity to take part in some activities with friends that they would not otherwise have been able to afford, and to treat themselves during their limited free time, it could not fundamentally increase the amount of free time they have available. This points to a broader need to provide young carers with regular opportunities for respite – not necessarily for any great length of time – so that they have a chance to 'do their own thing' (which may be at home or outside the home) and relax, knowing that their cared-for person is safe.