Charity raises concerns with Children’s Minister over care leaver comments

Become is urging Vicky Ford to write to all Directors of Children’s Services to remind them of existing legislation and guidance around the provision of care leavers’ key financial entitlements after her comments on the financial vulnerability of care leavers.

15/06/21

Charity raises concerns with Children’s Minister over care leaver comments

A charity has written to the Children’s Minister expressing their concern after her letter to Directors of Children’s Services said care leavers often fall into debt due to failing to budget effectively.

Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers, said it welcomed Vicky Ford raising the important issue of financial vulnerability for care leavers, but wanted to make clear that “nobody can simply budget their way out of poverty”.

The response was prompted by the Children’s Minister’s comments that care leavers face issues with debt “often due to a lack of understanding of how to maintain a tenancy, pay bills and budget effectively.”

The charity said that this does not give a full picture, and that financial independence is expected of care leavers at a much earlier age than other young people, while also being on the lower rate of Universal Credit. This leaves many struggling to make ends meet, forcing them into cycles of debt and homelessness, Become said.

Victoria Langer, Interim CEO of Become, said that in 2021 so far, 200 young people have called the charity’s Care Advice Line with issues specifically surrounding debt, finances, housing, and higher education costs.

“That’s at least one young person calling each day – and not because they don’t know how to budget – but because there are systemic structural issues which make it harder for them to live more independently and prevent them from accessing support they are entitled to.

“We must acknowledge that a decade of austerity, rising poverty, and cuts to the welfare system have significantly impacted the financial vulnerability of care leavers and this is not just a case of learning how to budget better.”

Langer says there are also “major inconsistencies” across England with care leavers accessing the financial entitlements they’re lawfully entitled to.

“We see local authorities creating many significant barriers which can rob care leavers of their autonomy and agency.”

One example given was the Setting Up Home Allowance, which designed to provide care leavers with funds to purchase things such as white goods, furniture, and cutlery. However, some local authorities place outdated price restrictions on these items, which do not accurately match to higher costs today, or they require receipts to release funds which makes it much harder to purchase cheaper items from charity shops and resale sites.

Local authorities also sometimes use a care leaver’s Setting Up Home Allowance as a catch-all for other costs, such as a rental deposit, which they should be sourcing from elsewhere, Langer says.

The charity is now urging the Children’s Minister to make the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent and ensure that care leavers receive the higher over 25 allowance. They have also recommended that Vicky Ford once again writes to all Directors of Children’s Services and reminds them of existing legislation and statutory guidance around the provision of care leavers’ key financial entitlements.

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