When young people become homeless they need help not hurdles

Wednesday, 1 October 2014 - 2:50pm

Reducing access to benefits for young people could have serious implications for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Jacqui McCluskey blogs about one of the proposals to surface at this year's party conferences.

The idea of restricting benefits, including housing benefit for young people has been mooted for several years by the Conservative party. The latest idea, announced by the Chancellor a few days ago, is to target restrictions at those aged 18-21 years – savings from which could help fund apprenticeships.

Although steps to tackle youth unemployment should be welcomed - including supporting young people into education, training and work - reducing access to benefits for young people could have serious implications for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. 

We are currently analysing our latest research on youth homelessness, but this is what the existing evidence indicates. 

No place to call home

Around half of those currently living in homeless accommodation services are under 25s. Moreover, the main reason these individuals end up in services is because of relationship breakdown, mainly with their parents.

What this tells us is that for some young people who find themselves homeless, returning to their family home is simply not an option - especially if they  face  violence or neglect or have just left care.

Finding a place to live can also be a struggle, even if you are receiving housing benefit. Rising rent puts some accommodation out of reach, while the extension of the shared accommodation rate to include under-35s has significantly increased competition in the already crowded market.

Facing complex problems

Our 2013 Young and Homeless research also indicates that homeless young people often face a range of complex problems. Four in ten are not in education, employment or training. Issues with mental ill-health and substance misuse are common. Many lack the skills needed to live independently. 
These issues often stem from earlier life experiences and, what is even more concerning, is that many of our members report that young homeless people’s support needs appear to be becoming more complex. 

Support is essential

The most comprehensive study of the life histories of adults using homelessness and drug services found that homelessness is something that can be inextricably linked with complex and chaotic life experiences, particularly damaging experiences in childhood. 

Mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependencies, street culture activities and institutional experiences (such as prison and the care system) are often closely linked with the more extreme experiences of homelessness.

The basic message is that if you face a lot of problems and, don’t get the right help, your issues are more likely to get worse and could potentially affect the course of your life. 

No more barriers

Tackling youth homelessness is not simple but we need to ensure that future policy changes do not add to an already significant issue. 

When someone is young and with nowhere to live, having a safety net in place is vital to helping them get their lives back on track. This safety net has to include being able, if necessary, to pay for a roof over their head - something that housing benefit provides.  

We recognise that the cost of the housing benefit bill is high but we need to be tackling the causes of this - the undersupply of affordable housing, excessively high rents and low pay employers - rather than penalising young people.

In November we will publish the results of this year’s Young & Homeless research and hope that the evidence will inform any future policy decisions that are made.