Benefits cuts for under 25s could increase homelessness

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04 Oct 2013
by Claire Windebank

This week Framework is hosting a special seminar in Mansfield on its work with vulnerable young people – on the challenges they face and the most effective ways to help them.

The choice of venue is an apt one as many of the young people we help – including care leavers, young offenders, and people with drug and alcohol issues – are supported by us in and around this community.

Our job is to support and inspire them to thrive in their adult lives. Whatever their past experiences we will not give up on them. However serious their issues we will try and try again to bring positive change to their lives.

Young people are not all the same. They have vastly differing life-experiences, family backgrounds and aspirations. They cannot be treated as one single block.

Claire Windebank, Operations Manager for Young People

It is for this reason that I was so concerned by this week’s suggestion by the Prime Minister that under 25s who are not in training or employment could lose their entitlement to benefits under a majority Conservative Government.

The central theme of this argument is sound enough: that young people should be in training and employment and that government has a central role to play in ensuring that this happens. That, however, is where my agreement with him comes to an end.

Young people, he said, should have a “clear, positive choice” to stay in education, do an apprenticeship or get a job.

Fine in theory but, as with all such policy ideas it pays to think further about the potential consequences of this idea. A potential increase in youth homelessness is the most alarming of these.

The central problem here is this: young people are not all the same. They have vastly differing life-experiences, family backgrounds and aspirations. They cannot be treated as one single block. For some this measure would doubtless prove a relatively minor financial blow, yet for others it could well prove the catalyst for short-term homelessness and long-term social exclusion.

For example, many of the young people we support have come from very chaotic backgrounds. Whilst our aim is always to get them into training and employment, this – with the very best will in the world – can and does take time.

If they live in one of our specialist accommodation units this time is effectively bought by their entitlement to housing benefit. They can and do receive state support (like others, when they need it most) at a time when they are not in education or training. Without this support we would have no way to fund their accommodation – a situation that would pose us some very serious problems.

Of course, the very last thing we want to do is make somebody homeless, but for vulnerable young people in private rented accommodation there will be far less certainty.

It’s tempting here to suggest that they could simply return to their parents’ home but this is simply not an option for many of the people we help who are estranged from or strangers to their family. All young people, as I said before, are not all alike. They have different needs and must be supported as individuals.

Clearly this remains merely a policy idea – one that is dependent on a majority Conservative government after the 2015 General Election. It isn’t set in stone and, I am sure, it may change somewhat from what has been outlined. Rest assured that Framework will do all it can highlight the potential plight of the people it supports should this misguided and unhelpful suggestion ever become law.

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