In this article the authors explore the day-to-day lives of two groups of young people. Both were the subject of research activities carried out between 1997 and 2000. The outcomes of that work into the lives of young carers and young people with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) have been extensively documented elsewhere; here we draw out some of the common factors that serve to socially isolate and exclude young people who are heavily reliant on, or are drawn into supporting, home-based caring relationships. We argue that the current social exclusion debate's primary focus on the public sphere (with an emphasis on such matters as homelessness and school exclusion) neglects the ways in which young people can experience similar forms of disadvantage in the private sphere. A more critical analysis of the impact of social exclusion on young people requires a wider perspective, which examines and clarifies the interconnectedness of the public and private domains of young people's lives. The research presented in this article highlights the ‘common experience’ of young people’s exclusion in the private and public sphere and raises further issues regarding young people’s invisibility and professional practice and unease when faced with the complexity of young people’s lives.