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Helping care leavers get the best start in life

Councillor Ben Kind blogs on Lambeth Labour's commitment to exempting care leavers from paying council tax until they are 25....

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The latest figures tell us that around 80,000 children and young people across the country are in care away from home on any one day in the UK. Many will have experienced significant trauma in their lives – including emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, violence in the home or the death of a parent. Around them, a team of experts (including social workers, health care professionals, teachers and foster carers) work together to ensure that children in care receive the support they need, a safe and caring home and a chance to move on from the challenges they’ve faced.

Over the last 40 years, my family has fostered hundreds of children and young people – many of whom continue as part of our family well into adulthood and long after they’ve left the care system. I always considered myself incredibly lucky that my family decided to become a foster family - even when I was the youngest of 8 teenagers squeezed under one roof! Whilst I’ve undoubtedly benefited personally from having had extra brothers and sisters throughout my life - I’ve also been able to see first-hand how hard it can be for children in care, particularly as they get older and move towards living independently. For the last four years I’ve tried to use that experience as a member of Lambeth Council’s Fostering and Adoption Panel where we help Lambeth Council find more foster carers and adopters.

We know that regardless of the reason why children and young people in care can’t live with their birth families, evidence suggests that they will usually find life continues to throw more challenges at them. Recent figures show that proportionally more than twice as many care leavers are not in education, employment or training when they are 19 years old compared to the general population – and children in care are 4 times more likely to develop mental health difficulties than those who are not. Meanwhile, research by The Children’s Society’s Care (including their excellent ‘The cost of being care free’ and ‘Wolf at the Door’ reports) tells us that care leavers are also three times more likely to have had a benefit sanction than compared to the general working age population and are also at greater risk of falling into debt, including Council Tax debt.

Despite these additional challenges, the task for councils in providing support for children and young people in care has been made even harder by the crippling cuts to council budgets imposed by successive Conservative ministers since 2010. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies estimate that between 2010 and 2020 local councils will have had their total funding cut by 79%. Not content with just cutting council budgets the Tories have cut central government funding for early intervention projects by 55% over the last seven years (around £1.7bn). Because the Conservative Party refuses to reverse their ideological cuts to council budgets, children services across the country are now facing a £2 billion funding gap in 2020.

But that doesn’t mean that Lambeth Council shouldn’t try to do more to help care leavers or those transitioning to independent living. Lambeth Labour agrees with The Children’s Society that care leavers are a vulnerable group for Council Tax debt. By exempting Lambeth’s care leavers from paying Council Tax until their 25th birthday, Lambeth Council will be able to help relieve some of the pressures on them as they move into independent living, improving their life chances and allowing them to focus on the other challenges they face. As a local councillor and, perhaps more importantly, as someone who is part of a family that fosters – nothing makes me prouder than seeing us do more to help those who typically haven't had a great start in life.

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