UK government's 'cruel welfare cut will fuel youth homelessness'

Abolition of housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds on Jobseekers Allowance, announced today in the Queen’s Speech, has dismayed homelessness charities, writes Ruby Stockham.

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, called it a “disaster for thousands of young people”, adding that:

“For many young people, living with their parents simply isn’t an option. They may be escaping violent or abusive backgrounds; or there may be no room for them in the family home. Housing benefit can be all that stands between them and homelessness.

“It can mean keeping a roof over their heads whilst they look for work or get their lives back on track. Far from helping them, taking this support away could make it even harder for them to find a job.”

This last point is the most important. Conservative government welfare reforms do not help people get into work. This latest announcement is another example of a gross miscalculation by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – both moral and logical – which says, take away everything and people will have no choice but to work.

The problem is, if you’re left with nothing you often end up stuck there. For example, benefit claimants who are sanctioned – leaving them without enough money to feed themselves – have reported their frustration  and anger at not being able to afford to travel to job interviews. Young people without a stable home will find it much more difficult to search and apply for jobs; at best they will be constantly changing location, at worst they will be sleeping rough. Neither situation is conducive to motivation and focus.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have said the cut will affect about 20,000 young adults – a big number but not enough that it will make any really substantial saving. They calculated that the move will save only about £0.1billion, and said the government may as well abolish the benefit for all under-25s if they want to see any real gains.

The announcement of the cut coincided with the release of an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report on youth unemployment which should make the new government very uncomfortable. The OECD Skills Outlook 2015 warned that governments across OECD countries need to do more to give young people a good start to their working lives and help them find work; tackling youth unemployment, said secretary-general Angel Gurría, is ‘not only a moral imperative, but also an economic necessity’.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates found that there were 943,000 young people (aged from 16 to 24) in the UK who were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). The issues associated with young people who find themselves in the NEET category include low educational attainment, gang membership, early criminalisation, drug culture and dependency, care needs, teenage pregnancy, and in many cases an overlap of several of these factors.

Adding the threat of homelessness to this list of concerns is not only senseless, it is terribly cruel.

Among the recommendations of the OECD report is that:

“Public employment services, social welfare institutions and education and training systems should offer some form of second-chance education or training.

 “In return for receiving social benefits, young people could be required to register with social welfare or public employment services, and participate in further education and training.”

Instead, the government have launched the new parliament with a cut which embodies their welfare ideology – tough love without the love, punitive, counterproductive and not inclined to second chances. They say they will continue to protect those with nowhere else to go, but the problem is that it is often not evident who this is until it is too late, until the most hopeless find themselves without a roof over their heads, off the radar and out of options.

* Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Follow her on Twitter.