On 29th June 2017 the Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke during the final day’s debate on the Queen’s Speech. She highlighted the situation of vulnerable young people moving into adulthood, as care leavers, carers, refugees, those with disabilities and those in prison.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I will highlight something that I believe needs careful consideration as we think about education, health and welfare. It is the matter of vulnerable young people making the transition to adulthood. I am grateful for the aspirations I have heard to support families and give children the best start in life. As we strive for the fairness and flourishing of all, I am concerned that we have yet to see any emphasis on our most vulnerable young people as they move into adulthood. I would particularly like to draw the Government’s attention to five specific groups who need help as they transition to adult life: young people leaving care; young people who are carers themselves; young people with severe disability; young people who are refugees and asylum seekers; and young women at risk of offending and being imprisoned.
Each year around 11,000 young people aged 16 and over leave the care of their local authority. They face the challenge of living independently. The Children’s Society has highlighted how easy it is for them to get into debt as they struggle to develop financial independence. For example, it can be very frightening for these young people to find themselves in council tax debt that quickly escalates to a court summons and enforcement action. Surely we need to support these young care leavers as they take on managing their finances for the first time. As noble Lords may be aware, the Children’s Society is spearheading a campaign to ask councils to exempt care leavers from council tax. Encouragingly, 19 local authorities have now taken this step. I wholeheartedly commend this action.
Now let me mention young people who are carers themselves. In my diocese we have a wonderful organisation, Gloucestershire Young Carers, which works alongside schools and other agencies to get these young people the help they need and minimise the impact of their caring role on their adult lives. At present there are 1,000 young carers on their books. One of those is Evie, aged 16, who has struggled with her first year of A-levels alongside a part-time job and caring for her mother, who suffers both physical and mental ill health. She has written off the chance of going to university as it would leave her mother with no support. Gloucestershire Young Carers is helping Evie try to make a plan for her future where she does not put her caring role before her dreams and ambitions. We know that there are others like Evie who are unsupported. As laws are shaped regarding social care and adult carers, we must not lose sight of the needs of young carers.
We must also not lose sight of severely disabled young people who are not being housed appropriately for adulthood. In Gloucestershire we have the amazing National Star College. However, some leavers are now being housed in elderly care homes. We need to find independent living solutions or even appropriate residential care. National Star is doing well in establishing long-term residential accommodation, but so much more is required.
On migration, as mentioned in the most gracious Speech, our young refugees and asylum seekers need to receive the best start in adult life. We know that education allows these young people to integrate and develop as contributing members of society, but refugees aged 15 and above often find it difficult to find school places. These youngsters, including Syrians on the resettlement programme, often do not arrive at a time convenient for the start of the academic year and not enough is being done to ensure that they can enter formal education. In Gloucestershire there are young unaccompanied people who have been out of formal education for more than eight months.
There is one further group of young people I will mention and this time I will be gender-specific: young women who find themselves in prison. Some of these women have been challenged by some of the issues I have already outlined, such as leaving care. Only last week I was in Eastwood Park prison with a number of young women in the early years of adulthood who were about to leave prison. Some of them had nowhere to live and were concerned that they would therefore end up back among those they knew with addiction problems. They were concerned about how they would find support to enable them to make good choices for their lives going forward. More than 50% of women in prisons have been abused in childhood and more than 60% have been victims of domestic abuse.
These young women do not require us to build more prisons, but they need appropriate community support in the form of women’s centres. In Gloucester we are very fortunate to have a fabulous women’s centre run by the Nelson Trust. Its work is inspirational as it works with young women in a holistic way, addressing issues of well-being, education, housing and finance. The Nelson Trust gets just £750 a year to support a vulnerable young woman and not only keep her out of prison, but enable her to make good choices to shape her future for adulthood. It costs £45,000 a year to keep a young woman in prison. This is a ridiculous and expensive situation and something needs to change so that properly resourced work can be done with these young women in the community.
As we reflect on the gracious Speech and look with hope to the future, I implore each of us to hold in mind the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, most especially those young people transitioning to adulthood. May we ensure their voices are heard as government policies are shaped that enable the flourishing of all individuals and communities.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord O’Shaughnessy) (Con) [extract]…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester talked about providing hope for the most vulnerable…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about vulnerable young people with learning difficulties. I can reassure them all that this is still very much a priority for the Government.