Scrapping housing benefit for under 25s will only feed youth homelessness

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The coalition’s policies aimed at cutting the social security bill have so far fallen disproportionately on the youth demographic (and disabled people), despite older people receiving 47 per cent of UK welfare spending through state pensions. 

Scrapping housing benefit for under-25s is one key policy announced at the Conservative party conference last year. The Conservatives seem determined to cut the benefits bill for the 1.1 million young people aged 16-24 who are out of work, despite the lack of jobs for them to go into.

Naturally many young people decide to advance their skills by going to university and university applications reached a record high in 2013 despite a drop in 2012.

But a degree no longer guarantees a well-paid job – or any job – and many of those leaving university are finding themselves on jobseekers allowance, struggling to find employment with little experience in a saturated labour market. Some claim housing benefit, while others go back to live with parents, if that is possible.

At the end of January the ONS said that last year 49 per cent of 20-24 year olds were already living with their parents, a 7 percent rise since 2008. Those living with their parents in this age group were more likely to be unemployed and the ONS says research links becoming unemployed with returning to the parental home.

These figures discount tens of thousands of young people living with partners or their own children in their parents’ home.

But what about those young people who can’t return to their family home, for whatever reason? What about those whose parents are dead or who were abused? Whose families simply don’t have space, perhaps because they have moved into smaller homes as a result of the bedroom tax? Or where relationships have irretrievably broken down?

The Citizens Advice Bureau published figures last week which showed huge rises in the numbers of young people seeking help about homelessness. Between 2007/8 and 2012/3 the CAB saw a 57 per cent increase in young people seeking help about actual homelessness and a 39 per cent increase in problems for young people with threatened homelessness.

In their annual report published at the end of January, Homeless Links highlighted the fact that of those homeless people under 25 who approached the local authority for help, 44 per cent said their parents were no longer willing to accommodate them.

As almost half of young people aged 20-24 are already living with their parents, it would seem that most of those who have to option to ‘go home’ already have done so.

It is unlikely that scrapping housing benefit for under-25s will mean that many of these claimants will go back to living with parents; instead many will be pushed out of their homes and onto the streets where their chances of finding employment are diminished to next to nothing.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows that people need their basic physiological needs met – food, water, shelter and warmth – before they are motivated to focus on higher levels of need up to self-actualisation.

By taking away the most basic foundations of support in the form of housing benefit from the most vulnerable unemployed young people, the Conservatives will be condemning these young people to a vicious circle of struggles rather than enabling them to discover their potential.