By Dr Chloe Maclean and Jamie Livingstone
Sometimes when Danielle looks in the cupboard at home there isn’t much food inside. She doesn’t ask her mum for more because she thinks her mum has enough to worry about. Instead, Danielle quietly puts aside a couple of apples for herself and her sister Kate, who has additional needs and who she is a carer for, to have the following day.
Danielle is just 16-years-old. She’s one of thousands of young carers across Scotland who look after a loved one.
The money worries facing Danielle and other young carers like her aren’t new; but research published today by the University of the West of Scotland and Oxfam suggests they are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As ‘Young, caring and struggling to make ends meet: the worsening economic circumstances of Scotland’s young carers during Covid-19’ shockingly reveals, nearly half of the young research participants reported relying on food banks. The report underlines how financial pressures are impacting young people’s personal wellbeing while limiting their learning opportunities and future careers goals.
During the pandemic, Danielle took on a part time job at Asda to help with the family finances, juggling work, online school lessons and her caring responsibilities for her Kate. Danielle’s daily routine, built around her sister and family’s needs, is an example of the selfless love that so many carers in Scotland demonstrate every day.
But as many carers know all too well, the poverty-price of such selfless love can be unacceptably high.
Despite some welcome policy advances, too many carers – including too many young people – continue to find themselves facing the stress and worry of an empty food cupboard as a consequence of caring.
Before the Scottish election, there was lots of focus on social care, including pledges to create a National Care Service. Clearly, we must ensure high-quality care is available to all those who need it, while also protecting paid care workers from poverty and relieving pressure on unpaid carers.
But social care is only one piece of the puzzle.
For too long, the efforts of Danielle and other unpaid carers like her have been systemically undervalued and under-rewarded, leaving many locked in poverty.
We are encouraged that all the main parties made commitments on care, but substantial action is urgently needed to right this wrong.
The new Scottish Government must commit to building a truly caring country, where no carer, paid or unpaid, is left to languish in poverty.
To deliver on this goal and to track progress, we need a new National Outcome on valuing and investing in all forms of care – paid and unpaid – to be placed at the heart of the new Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework. Given this Framework increasingly steers policy and spending decisions, it is currently much too difficult to see where care and carers feature within it.
Ministers must make a generation-defining commitment to all those looking after someone in Scotland, including the young people like Danielle selflessly caring for others, that they are seen, they are valued and that the government and country will care for them in return.
We owe them nothing less.