Earlier today, Conference passed a motion calling for better support for care leavers up until the age of 25.
During the debate, Scottish Lib Dem Housing spokesperson Paul McGarry talked about why the measures outlined in the motion were so important and would have helped him. He describes the terrifying experience of being homeless at 16 after a “chaotic” childhood.
He has kindly sent us his speech so that readers can understand the reality our young people have to go through.
Conference I am one of a small group within our party with a lived experience and today I want to speak specifically about my experience, and how it relates to the importance of resolution 4.
Too many children are experiencing turmoil in their day-to-day existence, dealing with parents who have addictions, their parents broken relations, physical, emotional and sexual abuse within the home.
My own experience was a childhood that was disrupted and chaotic and a constant fear that we might be taken into care. We received support and my mum received support, we had neighbours and people in the community helping us, in fact my first contact with the Lib Dems was when we stayed with a Lib Dem MP and his wife, when my mum was particularly unwell.
Life was chaotic but I mostly was not permanently in the care system though my brother was.
This came to a head and at 16 I was homeless, homeless and terrified.
Treated as an adult it was terrifying, I remember the stench of the council office, sat in the reception all alone without a clue what would happen next.
I was in a hostel without any help, no support and neighbour residents who were a low-level drug dealer and a prostitute. In fairness they always looked out for me. Every day I would head to college with my rucksack and leave it in the corner of the college room.
It was a few months until I got into accommodation designed around young people.
My life was in tatters, I was failing in college, my Mental Health was failing and life was really chaotic.
In the end my life changed as I was given an apprenticeship as a youth worker through a local church which eventually saw me come to Scotland.
I was lucky, I was so fortunate and there is a very real possibility my life could have been so different, some I know passed away far too young, some have been exploited into prostitution, or drug abuse, and some have been in and out of prison.
Were it not for the help and opportunity I was given through the local church I would not be sitting here today. The state ignored me, the state did not care I existed, simply put the state could not give two craps I existed or what happened to my life. Conference please forgive me for moderating my language here. I have something a little stronger to say about how the state treated me and my friends.
It is a tragedy and one that has motivated me, the reason I am in Politics and every time I smash a hurdle I remember those who have been caught in the abuses they endured as children that they were never given a fair opportunity to succeed, they were set up to fail as children.
This motion highlights this injustice. It closes the gap and ensures that my friends are not left behind to fend for themselves.
This should never happen this motion and the specific point would provide them a lifeline. Why should a child who has endured 16 years of chaos ever be kicked to the curb.
This motion provides a lifeline for those people, my friends and the intervention could not have come soon enough.
I close by taking this one step further. I believe that care leavers should be included as a protected characteristic. The challenges, hardship and discrimination continues long into adulthood and it is important that we receive additional legal protection.
Conference I am the Vice Convenor of the Scottish Party, Scottish Housing Spokesperson, next year I will be a councillor and one day I will be a Member of the Scottish Parliament. If you give us a chance to fulfil our potential we can succeed!