YOUNG VOICES

'Nothing Short Of Catastrophic'. What The Queen's Speech Means For Britain's Young People

27/05/2015 15:47 BST | Updated 27/05/2015 17:00 BST

The removal of housing benefits for under 21s as detailed in the Queen's Speech would be "nothing short of catastrophic" if it forces young people out onto the streets or back into abusive homes, a charity has warned.

The speech, delivered on Wednesday, laid out the government's aims to tackle youth unemployment, which included a new form of social security for 18 to 21 year olds. Along with creating 3m apprenticeships and a new benefits cap of £23,000 - down from £26,000 - automatic entitlement to housing benefits for that age group will be removed.

There are currently more than 19,000 18 to 21 year olds claiming housing benefit and Jobseeker's Allowance, according to a recent report. More than 8,000 of those youths said the reason for the loss of their last home was that their parents wouldn’t or couldn’t house them.

Housing charity Shelter has warned removing young people's access to housing benefit will lead to an increase in homelessness.

In a blog for HuffPost UK, Toby Lloyd, head of policy at the charity, said: "All young people need a stable home from which to improve their skills and find work and while many can find this with their own parents, we believe the safety net must continue to support those with no one else to turn to."

Neil Garrity, who lives in Bolton and now works for UNISON, received housing benefit when he was 18, which, he says, helped him to escape an unhappy home life.

"If that safety net hadn't been there when I needed it most, I really wouldn't like to imagine how things may have turned out," he told HuffPost UK. "What it didn't do is start me off to a life on benefits.

"There's no guarantee it will save the state money. There'll be the extra cost of evictions and temporary accommodation to pay for.

"It also marks a worrying sign to the end of the universal social security system we so cherish. These plans are a heavy price for our young people to bear."

Currently, single people under 35 without dependent children are only entitled to rent a room in shared accommodation, such as a bedsit or room in a house or hostel. According to Shelter, removing youths' access to this "safety net" will prevent access to emergency accommodation, meaning those who do not have the option of going home have little other choice but to sleep rough.

St Mungo's, a charity helping homeless people, says 23% of its under 21 clients report domestic violence as a factor contributing to their homelessness. Nearly a quarter have experienced violence or abuse from a partner or family member.

David is 18 and used to live with his Nan. When she died, he moved into a St Mungo's Broadway supported accommodation project, where his housing costs have been paid for in part through housing benefit.

"My dad has mental health issues and we really don’t get on. We’d argue and fight.... I moved from my dad’s to my mum’s house but she has alcoholism. She can’t look after herself, let alone me. So I really had nowhere to go.

"My Nan was more of a mum to me than anywhere else. The rest of my family are miles and miles away and I’ve moved around so much already that I don’t want to move anymore.

"Here’s the only place I’ve settled in and is decent. Living here is one of the best things.

"I don’t earn enough money to live in rented housing – not even just a room. I’m earning £5.95 an hour for two days a week and that’s not enough to pay rent and to live. I don’t drink or smoke and the £77 a week I earn pays for food and travel everything else. There’s nothing left.

"If I couldn’t claim housing benefit, I don’t know what I’d do – I’d be back out on the streets again."

Nearly half of under 21s helped by the charity have a mental health problem, with 30% saying they have a physical health problem.

Since 2010, there has been a 55% increase in the number of people sleeping rough, while the number of youths sleeping rough in London has more than doubled.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter echoed Lloyd's sentiments, describes housing benefits as a "lifeline" for young people.

"We need a welfare system that’s fair, but taking away the safety net that stands between some young people and the streets is simply not right.

"Not every young person has the option of going home to their parents – like those escaping violence or thrown out because of their sexuality. For them housing benefit isn’t a lifestyle choice but a lifeline that gives them a safe place to stay for the night.

"A small number of 18-21 year olds need housing benefit in the short-term while they find a new job or get back on their feet. If taking away this part of the safety net forces more young people out onto the streets or back to abusive homes it would be nothing short of catastrophic."

Jade*, a 21-year-old trained hairdresser, was sexually abused by her father from the age of 11, and, as a result, has tried to take her own life three times. She now lives in a private rented flat. Her rent is £70 a week, which is paid entirely by housing benefit. For Jade, living with her parents is simply not an option.

"If it wasn't for housing benefit I probably wouldn't even be alive, I know it's like dead drastic, but I feel like a burden on everybody. I have not wanted to live with my parents since I was about 12 or 13.

"I've always had this situation at home. But if I wasn't here now... I would be dead. That is me being honest."

*Jade's name has been changed to protect her identity.

Henry Gregg from the National Housing Federation described the proposals as a "blanket withdrawal of support".

"[It] will remove vital safety nets that prevent families and young people from becoming homeless.

"Having a secure and decent home is the foundation stone for getting on in life. A system that provides support for housing as well as new training opportunities is crucial to support people back into work.

"Housing associations have a strong track record of supporting their residents into work through employment support, apprenticeships and training and want to work with Government to create more jobs and skills development opportunities. That is the only way to bring down the benefits bill long term."

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