Growing up in care should become a legally-protected characteristic, campaigners say

Growing up in care should become a legally-protected characteristic like age, race or religion, campaigners say as council holds historic vote

  • Cumberland Council will vote on whether to give people in care protected status
  • A motion put to the council describes people from care as an ‘oppressed group’
  • It says those who grew up in care ‘face discrimination’ and a lottery postcode

A English council is set to vote on whether to make growing up in care a legally-protected characteristic like age, race or religion.

Cumberland Council, in the north west of England, will decide today on whether to back a motion recognising that ‘care experienced people are an oppressed group who face discrimination’.

It says that these people are often facing a ‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to accessing support, and they face ‘discrimination and stigma across housing, health, education, relationships employment and in the criminal justice system’.

If passed it would require the council to treat ‘care experience’ as if it’s a protected characteristic and to ‘call upon all other bodies to treat care experience as a protected characteristic until such time as it may be introduced by legislation’.

It comes after a review into children’s social care recommended the UK becomes the first country in the world to make growing up in, or having experience of, care a protected characteristic. 

The report, by Josh MacAlister, founder of children’s charity Frontline, was published in May this year urged the government, councils, employers and educational settings to ‘step up’ and secure ‘loving relationships; quality education; a decent home; fulfilling work and good health’ for people who been in care.

Cumberland council will vote on a motion today about whether to make growing up in care a protected characteristic. The motion states people from care settings are 'an oppressed group who face discrimination' (stock photo)

Cumberland council will vote on a motion today about whether to make growing up in care a protected characteristic. The motion states people from care settings are ‘an oppressed group who face discrimination’ (stock photo)

It added that as part of this a wider range of organisations would have to ‘act as corporate parents for looked after children’.

If the motion is approved, Cumberland Council would become the first local authority to act on the report in line with its recommendations.

The motion at the Labour-dominated council, which covers half of Cumbria including the city of Carlisle and the towns of Whitehaven and Keswick, says people from care settings do experience ‘discrimination, stigma, and prejudice in their day to day lives’.

It states: ‘Public perceptions of care experience centre on the idea that children are irredeemably damaged and that can lead to discrimination and assumptions being made.’

It added: ‘This stigma and discrimination can be explicit, and often comes with assumptions about the likely characteristics of children and adults that have care experience. They can also be implicit and are evidenced in the way care experience is discussed in schools, workplaces, and the media.

‘At its worst this can lead to care experienced people being refused employment, failing to succeed in education or facing unfair judgements about their ability to parent when they have children and families of their own.’

It goes on to say it is ‘clear that such discrimination can be similar in nature to other groups that have a legally protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act.

The motion says: ‘ So, while there may be ways that society can help reduce stigma and discrimination, including creating greater public consciousness on these issues, just as with other areas of equality, there is a case to go further. 

‘Therefore, the government should make care experience a protected characteristic.

‘Making care experience a protected characteristic would provide greater authority to employers, businesses, public services, and policy makers to put in place policies and programmes which promote better outcomes for care experienced people. 

‘It will make the UK the first country in the world to recognise care experienced people in this way. As a measure, it will bolster and pave the way for a number of the recommendations in this chapter.’

The council is currently made up of Allerdale Borough Council, Carlisle City Council and Copeland Borough Council, which will be merged to form the new unitary authority of Cumberland Council next year.

The motion will be voted on by the council’s Shadow Authority, which is responsible for overseeing the planning and preparation for the new unitary authority between May this year and April 2023.  

The council will vote on the motion at its Shadow Authority meeting this morning.

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