When kids age out of foster, they are at their most vulnerable. This is where UBI can do a world of good.
By: Kenny Murray
I remember sitting exams and weighing up whether to get the bus home or skip lunch.
I graduated from high school with strong qualifications and went to university only to be unable to afford the rented accommodation that many of my peers had accessed with parental help.
Even access to a student overdraft was out of reach, stopped in its tracks by my lengthy address history.
For other care experienced young people, like me, these stories will feel familiar.
Every year across the UK, thousands of young people find themselves no longer eligible for help from a care system they’ve grown up in.
There’s a variety of reasons for this, including social workers removing their supervision order, therefore excluding them from the care they’d been used to, or the young person moving to a different part of the country.
While some young people receive help until they’re 26, it’s far from universal.
For many, that experience is a cliff edge, precarious in nature and fraught with risk.
I know this all too well because I lived it and experienced the brutal impact of the lifeline that the care system provides being ripped away.
That is why I’m excited by the news that the Welsh Government is piloting a scheme to deliver a basic income of £1,600 for care experienced young people.
For many young people leaving care, the support that currently exists is simply about helping them to survive.
But getting access to it often demands young people jump through hoops, fill in endless forms and face an interrogation to access help.
A basic income comes with an inherent trust, which we all deserve. A basic income could set the foundation for them to thrive.
Poverty is one of the main reasons that children in the UK find themselves in the care system.
As families in 2022 continue to come up against a rising tide of increasing living costs and struggle with the impact of intergenerational poverty, children are often removed from their parents and placed into environments in which they are meant to be better off.
In my experience of the care system, class and geographical divides were all too apparent. I spent time with family members who received little to no help.
I was taken into a children’s home when I was 11 that paid people a salary to look after me and later lived with a series of foster families all from different parts of the socio-economic scale; all provided benefits and allowances by the government that were denied to my biological family.
The government probably paid at least tens of thousands of pounds for my care, and local governments in England will spend over £10 billion on children’s social care in the current financial year.
However, it can seem that government investment in care experienced people stops very quickly into adulthood, if it even extends that far.
For most of the population, financial backing from parents continues well into adult life.
The average age at which someone moves out of their parents’ home has been steadily rising, and you only have to hear mentions of ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ to realise how important the role of parents is.
Frankly, this isn’t something on offer for many care experienced people.
If the care that young people are provided is to be considered an investment, then the return on investment for the individual isn’t really there.
Statistics, which don’t tell the entire story, reveal that young people in care often have poorer outcomes than their non care experienced peers.
For some this has devastating impacts including death, homelessness and poor health for a lifetime.
Basic income has the power to change that for the better.
In trusting people with access to a livable amount of money, we’re directly giving them control over their future. It’s a radical way of improving the lives of vulnerable people.
Instead of propping them up with the bare minimum, the Welsh Government is doing something world-leading in this pilot.
The Welsh scheme is based on the broader concept of Universal Basic Income, and there are already many detractors who worry about what the money will be spent on – claims that it will disincentivise people from looking for work, or worse, place young people in danger
Personally, I’d like to know where that concern for the welfare of care experienced people and others in poverty was before the idea of basic income was announced.
My theory is that a lot of critics simply don’t see the sense in investing in a population they’ve already written off.
I don’t see how basic income isn’t just a different iteration of any number of schemes that people from all walks of life use like access to business grants, help to buy mortgages, or even furlough.
Basic income simply gives financial backing to care experienced people without the bureaucracy of judgment and shame that accompanies accessing charitable help, like using social work issued vouchers or filling in discretionary forms where you’re encouraged to lay out how miserable your life is to get a crumb of help.
I know this will make an impact because it would have helped me.
I cringe at reading feedback notes from my first graduate interview at a global PR agency where my cheap clothes that didn’t really fit my slight frame led to me being described as ‘a wee boy in his dad’s suit’ by an interviewer.
This scheme, which should be rolled out nationally, would have helped me get a secure home, access to warm clothes, food, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of dignity.