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Alice Ashworth @ashworthalice Senior Policy Officer

Protecting the safety net for young people

Many of us across the country woke up this morning to hear David Cameron announcing further plans to reduce welfare spending, should the Conservatives win the election. The detail that may have got lost, in the midst of all this election fever, is the Conservatives’ plan to remove access to housing benefit for unemployed under 21 year olds. Given that over a quarter of those accepted as homeless by their local council last year were under 25, this proposal raises some serious questions about its potential impact on the already deeply troubling youth homelessness figures.

The Conservatives are not alone in proposing to restrict access to housing benefit for young people. Labour has also outlined proposals to reform out-of-work benefits for 18 to 21 year olds – and their proposals similarly rest on an assumption that young people who are out of work can live at home with their parents while they look for their first job.

Of course, most young people can either afford their own accommodation or are indeed fortunate enough to have parents who can accommodate them in the family home into adulthood. But these proposals pose a serious threat to the young people who do need extra support with their housing costs.

Last year more than 8,000 under 25 year olds were made homeless because their parents wouldn’t or couldn’t house them. This figure is likely to include care leavers, as well as young people who’ve suffered violence or abuse from family members, those whose relationship has broken down with their parents or whose parents simply aren’t able to house them. Many may never have reported the abuse or relationship breakdown they’ve experienced, so may find it difficult to secure exemptions to any blanket policy that restricts access to housing benefit.

Crisis previously fought hard against government proposals to cut housing benefit for under 25s through our No Going Home campaign. We argued that for many young people, housing benefit is all that stands between them and homelessness. And at the time we won this argument – these proposals were never implemented – because politicians recognised the harm this would do to young people trying to make the best start in life.

At Crisis we strongly believe that finding work is one of the best ways to make a sustained exit from homelessness. That’s why we welcome proposals from all parties to tackle youth unemployment and improve the training support and apprenticeships offered to young people. We have serious doubts, however, that removing housing benefit from those doing their best to enter the job market is the best way of supporting them to do so. For many young people, housing benefit is in fact the saving grace that enables them to move to areas with greater job opportunities. Crisis is determined to see that this possibility isn’t taken away from them.