In her first House of Commons speech, the youngest MP, Mhairi Black, stated that she is the only 20-year-old in the country that the Chancellor is willing to help with housing.
Criticising the Government’s plans to cut housing benefit for 18-21-year-olds, Black shared the concerns of many charities that work with young homeless people to the Commons.
In the July Budget, Chancellor George Osborne claimed that the best way out of poverty is work. However, for those struggling with housing, the solution is not so simple.
Charities Say Housing Benefit for Under-21s is Vital
Jacqui McCluskey, Director of Policy and Communications at Homeless Link, voices her thoughts: “Here at Homeless Link, we have real concerns that some current and proposed welfare policies are counter-intuitive, and could create unnecessary hurdles for the people most in need of help to escape poverty.
“The Government’s plans to remove housing benefit from 18-21-year-olds are being sold as an incentive for young people to either earn or learn. Yet without the safety net that housing benefit provides, young people can find themselves pushed even further from the workforce.”
Research has found that the most common cause of homelessness in under-25s is a relationship breakdown. Additionally, many are leaving violence or mental and physical abuse. These young people cannot stay at home and therefore housing benefit provides vital support as they “move towards independent living.”
“Without a stable home, many young people face additional barriers to work that cannot be addressed simply by removing access to benefits,” says McCluskey.
Six in ten young homeless people also have a range of complex needs, including mental health problems, and half do not have the basic skills to live independently.
“Restricting access to benefits does little to help these people into jobs,” explains McCluskey. “Homeless people have a far harder time trying to find work than those with a home.”
A study into benefit sanctions, usually occurring when jobseekers fail to turn up to Jobcentre appointments, revealed that only 3% of people who receive Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) are sanctioned. Among homeless people, this increases to 33%.
McCluskey urges: “Existing help to support people into work is already proven to be failing those who are most vulnerable. We need a greater focus on homeless people and their needs in the assessment process, the design and delivery of employment programmes, and the conditions placed upon individuals seeking support.”
Many homeless charities have reported that their clients are driven further into destitution due to losing their benefits. Although the Government has made the rules more flexible regarding those who are especially vulnerable, this should only reinforce the need for keeping essential benefits.
McCluskey concludes: “Work is a route out of poverty only if there is a welfare safety net that recognises the value of a sale and stable home, and employment support that understands housing needs.”1