The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care laid out a damming picture of the challenges faced by those who have spent their childhood in care. While many people with care experience go on to live truly inspiring lives, far too many have been let down by the system. It is a national shame that those taken into our collective care as a society make up a disproportionate share of those out of education and work, homeless (25%), or in prison (24%).
In Waltham Forest we have the privilege of looking after 317 brilliant young people in care. Their experience and the challenges they have faced are too varied to flatten into any one story or broad brushstroke. But our moral duty to them is universal. We are their corporate parents, and it is our job to give them the best start in life and support them through whatever comes next, in whatever path they choose.
It is why we have lead the way in prioritising our care leavers for council accommodation, and have plans for an inspiring multi-million pound care leavers’ hub to support them on their journey to becoming independent young adults. But the scale of the challenges highlighted by the care review make clear we need to do even more. One of the care review’s stand out recommendations was for the U.K. to become the first country to make care experience a protected characteristic.
Speak to anyone with care experience, and you’re likely to hear some painful home truths about the barriers they’ve encountered across every aspect of their lives from education to employment. Making care experience a protected characteristic would recognise the similarity of these challenges to other protected characteristics, such as sex, race and disability, and require organisations to address them head on. Employers would need to give due consideration to care experience as part of hiring processes; educational institutions would need to better account for it in their admissions and pastoral work; and policymakers would have to more explicitly consider the needs of those who’ve been in care when making decisions which affect them.
Regrettably, the Government’s feeble response to the care review failed to meet the scale of the challenge laid down in so many places, and in February they announced they would not be seeking to make care experience a protected characteristic.
So once again in the face of government inaction, it has fallen to local authorities to take the lead. Inspired by the voices of those in care and national campaigners such as Terry Galloway and the Show Us You Care Too campaign, 26 councils across the UK have so far have passed motions to treat care experience as a protected characteristic. As you would expect from the party who brought forward the 2010 Equalities Act, it has been Labour councils leading this charge. Of the 26 councils to have taken action so far, 20 have been under Labour control, and in February Labour-run Lambeth became the first in London to bring this motion forward.
On Thursday, Waltham Forest council will be joining them. The impact will be far more than just symbolic. It will commit us to putting the perspectives and needs of those with care experience at the heart of all of our policy and decision making processes, and ensure that we look to proactively support those with care experience into work through our role as an anchor employer in the borough.
But there is only so much we can do as authorities acting alone. Care leavers right across the UK need systemic change, and they need our help to make it happen. If you live in a Labour led local authority that is yet to take this motion forward, please encourage your local councillors to pass it. If you have a Labour MP, encourage them to raise it with our front bench team and when the time comes, ensure it features in our manifesto for government.
The Care Review rightly highlighted supporting those with care experience as one of the equalities missions of our time. It is incumbent on all of us as Labour supporters, activists and elected representatives to answer the call.