Can coalition talks save young people from life on the streets?
Next week’s expected coalition negotiations are likely to determine the direction of many young lives. This is not an overstatement. For a young person who needs support to keep a roof over their head, their future will hang on the discussions held by a handful of sleep-deprived politicians in Westminster.
Like many of us, I’ve been trawling through the party manifestos with a fine-tooth comb to see what they say about the things I care about. As someone who’s watched the youth homelessness figure rise and rise over the past few years, I’ve been paying particularly close attention to the commitments being made around young people’s access to housing benefit.
One thing I’ve been really struck by is that, while the two main parties have both committed to restrict benefits for 18 to 21 year olds, many of the smaller parties have made explicit commitments to retain this vital safety net.
So what do the manifestos say exactly? Well, the Conservatives are the most explicit about removing automatic entitlement to housing benefit from 18 to 21 year old jobseekers. This reform is to be accompanied by a time-limited six month Youth Allowance, after which benefits will be conditional on young people taking up an apprenticeship or traineeship, or doing daily community work.
Labour similarly wants to introduce a Youth Allowance for out of work 18 to 21 year olds that will depend on being in training. They’re cagey about the implications of their proposals for housing benefit. But as I’ve said previously I’m worried that, like the Conservatives, they’ll be expecting young people to live in the family home.
For many young people, living at home with their parents really isn’t an option. And that’s why Crisis will be fighting against any proposals to remove housing benefit from young people, whoever’s in power after the election.
The good news, however, is that none of the other parties support these proposals. The Liberal Democrats have committed to ‘protect young people’s entitlements to the welfare safety net, while getting them the help they need to get their first job.’ The SNP says they ‘will not support attempts to restrict housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds’ and both the Greens and UKIP pledge explicitly to keep housing benefit for under 25s.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that we’re likely to see some form of coalition negotiations taking place in the days and possibly weeks following May 7th. So any or all of these smaller parties could realistically end up holding the balance of power. While the focus of coalition talks is likely to be on the big ticket items such as the deficit and the NHS, it’s not unthinkable that benefits for young people could end up in the next programme for government.
It’s my hope that some of the smaller parties will take the opportunity to dig their heels in to protect young people from attempts to withdraw access to what really is a lifeline for those who need it. For many young people, housing benefit means the difference between sleeping in a warm bed or sleeping on the streets. Maintaining access to it might just help politicians sleep better at night too.