13 Dec 2022

Barriers to support: social housing and kinship care

There are an array of financial, social and health-related issues faced by carers in the UK. Kinship carers face additional challenges to meet basic living needs and provide adequate levels of stable care to the children they support. As a non-legally binding system of care, kinship carers are left without the sources of support available to those who foster or adopt through the state care system. Improvements in social housing could significantly improve security for kinship carers and the children they look after.

Kinship care refers to when a child is living with a guardian who isn’t their parent, such as a relative or family friend. It is estimated that roughly half of kinship carers are grandparents and many others are family members. These placements can occur for a multitude of reasons, including (but not limited to) poverty, domestic abuse, mental health issues or a family death. Kinship care is often overlooked as a social issue, and is arguably less well understood or known than other forms of social care.

Housing as a barrier

More research is needed to accurately predict how many kinship carers - official or otherwise - are in the UK. Even less is known about their tenure types, demonstrating that this may be a type of household overlooked by housing providers in terms of who is living in their homes.

Housing arrangements are high on the agenda for kinship carers. A lack of adequate housing can prevent relatives or friends from taking in children in need of a home, and could have the knock-on effect of increasing the number of children in the state care system (and therefore away from their local areas, friends and families).

Overcrowding can be an issue for kinship families; 33% of kinship carers have had to convert a living area into a bedroom and 5% of children under kinship care share a bedroom with their carer. Social housing residents that become kinship carers can notify their housing provider of their changed circumstances and request to be transferred to more suitable housing, although these lists can be long, even for those in high priority groups.

The cost of living

The rising costs of food, energy and rent are likely to be affecting the ability of kinship carers to adequately provide for a child. In a cost of living crisis survey aimed at kinship carers, nine out of ten respondents were struggling to make ends meet. Rising costs could prevent kinship carers from taking on the role at all if they do not believe they could make it work with limited financial resources. Aside from this, the struggle facing kinship carers precedes the current cost of living crisis.

“The cost of living crisis in kinship care didn’t start with Ofgem price cap rises, the Covid-19 Pandemic or Ukraine war impact, it’s been broken for decades.”
Sharon McPherson, Families in Harmony, kinship carer and social justice campaigner

Those who have reduced working hours or have given up work in order to become kinship carers have reported loss of benefits, being sanctioned and/or being evicted. The Guardian reported that one in ten people responding to a survey had their benefit capped due to becoming kinship carers and giving up on full-time work. Kinship carers also get less support compared to foster carers and others working in the state care system.

“In comparison to foster carers who all receive an allowance, it is unclear how many kinship carers have been granted Child Arrangement Orders, Residency Orders or private Special Guardianship Orders that have no financial allowance attached to them. Those expected to care for a child or children who potentially would have been in the care of the state under a financed fostering agreement. In addition to this, these unfinanced placements are putting already vulnerable children at greater risk of having their basic rights of food, heating, shelter and clothing compromised.”
Sharon McPherson, Families in Harmony, kinship carer and social justice campaigner

Kinship care gives children a chance for a stable upbringing without legally separating them from their parents. It has the potential to be more flexible than the state care system, meaning caring relationships can be short-term or long-term to suit the requirements of the individual case.

The issues of kinship carers seem to fly under the radar. There is a lack of assistance for kinship carers in obtaining safe and secure housing, as well as financial support. A failure to acknowledge and work on the specific needs of kinship carers risks further poverty and trauma which may affect carers, along with the often already vulnerable children that they welcome into their homes.

Written by George Stone

George works for us marketing and the Residents Voice Index.

us marketing and MRI Social Housing have founded the Residents Voice Index initiative - a long-term thought leadership project using data to make a difference to the social housing sector.