Scrapping housing support for under 21s

By Mike Barrett

6 March 2017

From April, unemployed 18 to 21 year olds will lose their entitlement to housing benefit.

The plans, which were announced by the Department for Work and Pensions on Friday, could force thousands more young people onto the streets.

There are exemptions for young people in certain circumstances, for example those who would experience a ‘significant risk’ of harm if required to live with their parents, but these exemptions do not go far enough to protect the most vulnerable or enable them to find a safe home.

Why? Because those who are ‘high risk’ will find it extremely difficult – even impossible – to provide evidence of their home situation. And by removing their only safety net – the automatic entitlement to housing costs – those who are already the most vulnerable will be forced into unsafe environments and even onto the streets.

Cutting a lifeline

Our own supported housing is a lifeline for hundreds of young people in Kent. Many have not had the benefit of a loving family or a safe and stable place to call home and some have experienced severe trauma, often at a very young age. We provide practical and emotional support to help them move on from the negativity of their past, and towards a future where there is hope.

But with youth homelessness on the rise – numbers have tripled in Kent in the past year – there are many young people needing our help and demand for our limited bed spaces is high.

The homelessness sector estimates that the policy, as it currently stands, would mean that 9000 young people will be unable to access accommodation and could be at risk of homelessness.

The cost to councils of increased levels of homelessness would wipe out virtually all of the planned £95m saving to the benefit bill, outlined when the policy was first proposed.

It goes without saying that if we are prepared to treat our vulnerable children in this callous way, there seems little hope for our society going forward. This legislation must be challenged and changed.