Young carers are being pushed away from enlisting on the government’s “gold standard” T Levels due to strict rules that would cut off their access to benefits.
College principals, experts, and MPs have warned that young carers are choosing shorter courses or dropping out of education altogether to prioritise their caring duties and claim their carer’s allowance, which pays out £76.75 a week if they care for someone for at least 35 hours a week.
Benefits rules stipulate that carers will not be able to claim carer’s allowance if they study for 21 hours or more each week and cannot be in full-time education, even if they meet all the other criteria. T Level students typically study for more than 21 hours a week.
College leaders have called for an urgent review of the carer’s allowance eligibility rules in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.
The Department for Education said it is aware of the concerns but is yet to pledge any action.
Clare Russell, principal of Runshaw College, told FE Week that many young carers come from low-income households, who could end up seeking paid work instead of studying.
“Young carers are having to choose between claiming vital financial support to enable them to carry out their caring duties, or studying a valuable T Level qualification,” she said.
She added that preventing carers from claiming the allowance means they would either “be forced to study a different qualification with fewer course hours or drop out of study altogether in order to work and support their family”.
“This seems inconsistent with the government’s promotion of T Level qualifications as a route for students to develop vocational skills and progress into skilled employment, higher study or apprenticeships,” Russell added.
It comes after a parliamentary debate last week examined the rising cost of living for FE learners, where chair of the all-party parliamentary group for students Paul Blomfield MP said that he had heard the 21-hour rule is putting off carers from doing full-time courses.
“Subsequently [we] heard the particular issue facing young carers on T Levels who will lose their carers allowance if they study for more than 21 hours a week, so the cost-of-living crisis is affecting decisions on remaining in further education but also on the type of course, with many leaning towards shorter courses,” he said.
True figure of carers dropping out ‘impossible to know’
According to the latest census calculations, there are more than 270,000 young adult carers aged 16 to 24 in England and Wales, equating to one in 23 young people.
However, the true figure of how many FE learners are impacted by the carer’s allowance eligibility is tough to determine as young adult carers are not categorised through the Individualised Learner Record (ILR).
“It’s impossible to know how many are doing T Levels, or how many have chosen to drop out of education,” said Nicola Aylward, Learning and Work Institute’s head of learning for young people.
Andy McGowan, policy and practice manager for young carers and young adult carers at Carers Trust told FE Week: “The 21-hour rule means that for many young carers, they will be forced into choosing their course not for academic reasons, but for financial ones. Young carers should not have to choose between caring or learning.
“In the current cost-of-living crisis, this rule is pushing these young people away from learning – particularly ‘gold standard’ courses such as T Levels – as they simply can’t afford to give up their Carers Allowance.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “We want as many young people as possible to benefit from T Levels including carers. We are aware of concerns relating to benefit eligibility for students studying over 21 hours per week and that this includes T Level students.
“We want to support students to access T Levels, and those in need can access help with the costs of participating in study through the 16-19 bursary fund including for travel passes and books.”