Wednesday 30 October 2019 4:17 am

Care leavers deserve a chance to begin adulthood on firm footing

We all remember the challenge of becoming an adult. 

Fresh out of school, college, or university, you are out there on your own – hunting for your first job, your first flat, and trying to make ends meet on your first pay cheques. 

My first taste of real adulthood came at age 22, straight out of university, when I moved to Australia on my own and got a job in Sydney. It was challenging and lonely at times, but I knew that my family were only a phone call away.

I cannot imagine how I would have coped without knowing my loved ones were there for me – or what it is like for the 12,500 young people who leave care every year in England. 

They have to take on all those challenges – finding work, securing accommodation, managing their own finances – often without anyone to fall back on. For them, when things go wrong, there is no Bank of Mum or Dad. They are on their own.

It is no surprise, then, that many of those vulnerable young people find it hard to land on their feet. Nearly 40 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 are not in employment, education or training – more than three times the rate for this age group overall. 

That is simply too many, and we in government want to do everything we can to help these young people cope with what many describe as the “cliff edge” of leaving care.

It is not just our job – it is a job for the whole of society. So it is wonderful that dozens of businesses have stepped up to help. This week, Chelsea Football Club, the Heathrow Academy, and London Fire Brigade are joining our Care Leaver Covenant to offer opportunities in our capital to help smooth care leavers’ transition into adulthood.

Amazon, Accor and Metro Bank are also joining a list of some 99 companies, including world-famous brands like Superdry, Rolls Royce and Liverpool FC, all making employment and training offers to talented young people looking to make their mark. 

Many of those businesses offer care leavers work placements and training. Saint-Gobain, a global construction corporation, is one of the Covenant’s many signees. In partnership with the charity Barnardo’s, Saint-Gobain has set up a community-training academy in Lewisham called Future Place, where care leavers learn the basics in construction and are introduced to potential employees through the company’s global customer network. 

Others, like Barclays LifeSkills, help them to manage their money – invaluable advice when you do not have the financial safety net of a family – while a number of universities, including Leeds and Cambridge, have pledged support such as bursaries and accommodation. 

And the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation is offering a series of “independent living workshops” to prepare care leavers for life as tenants.

Together, these businesses are helping the most vulnerable young people in society prepare for every aspect of their adult lives.

From the companies’ perspective, signing up to the Covenant makes sound business sense. Take Saint-Gobain, which trains care leavers in construction methods like “dry lining”, thereby not just giving them skills, but also filling in a gap in the market and addressing a huge issue for the whole industry.

These businesses are doing their bit to support these young people, while those of us in government continue to improve what we can offer them, to train and equip them with the skills they need to take on high-quality jobs – including in the City. 

We now just need more of those firms serving our economy to step forward and give these young people the opportunity to begin their adult lives on firm footing.

Main image credit: Getty

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