It may seem contradictory, but many of the children we look after at Barnardo's are at once the most vulnerable and resilient. I would challenge anyone not to admire the strength and courage it takes such young people as those who have been victims of abusive relationships as children and then go on to flourish as teenagers and adults.
The prospects for young people starting out in the world today are already bleak with nearly one million young people currently unemployed - and now life is about to get even harder for them. The reckless proposal to remove housing benefits from under-25s risks leaving some of this country's most vulnerable young people out in the cold. What makes this proposal particularly distasteful is that in reality only a mere eight per cent of total housing benefits are claimed by under-25s, making this a policy which risks causing long-term harm to the lives of young people for the sake of a few headlines.
Take children in care. At 18 they are expected to leave home, whatever that may be, and make their own way in the world - without the parental safety net to catch them if they fall. Figures show that 81% of young people who were in care aged 16 were living in accommodation for which they would be financially responsible by age 19, last year. This is a time when they sink or swim. With housing benefit they have a fighting chance of staying afloat. Without it the consequences could be devastating.
And children in care are not the only ones; young parents, domestic abuse victims and young people who need to move home for work or training opportunities all need a helping hand to make the transition into adult life. This is in stark contrast to their peers. A new Barnardo's poll reveals 79 per cent of parents expect to still be financially supporting their children at 19 with more than a third expecting never to stop giving their children some sort of financial support.
A child's 18th birthday should be a celebration - a milestone in life to look back on with fondness, not one to be approached with trepidation. The powers that be in Whitehall appear to have made an unrealistic assumption that under 25s claiming housing benefit have somewhere else to go for shelter if the money runs dry. But the reality is that a significant proportion of young adults on housing benefit are part of a vulnerable group who don't have a 'plan b' and are at risk of being rendered homeless.
Our television advert, Life Story, follows Michael's story, a man who has managed to make a success of himself because he got the right support. He describes how the 'woman from Barnardo's' doesn't give up'. We actively encourage the young people at our projects to pursue education and develop basic skills for life such as cooking, household budgeting and accessing financial aid. Health advice and counseling is also given to ensure they can make a successful transition to independent life and our supported lodgings give young people a place of safety and relative stability while we help them to find a permanent home.
One of those real-life survivors Barnardo's helped is Sherel, now 22, who was in care from the age of four, and is now a bright, confident young woman who has started her own film-making business, is a photographer, works two other jobs and is studying for a degree in education.
Young women like Sherel can be the business leaders of tomorrow. Indeed, Barnardo's vice president and world renowned fashion designer Bruce Oldfield OBE, who grew up in boys homes and foster care, has achieved great things and is another outstanding role model. Bruce has spoken out in The Times this week about the importance of ongoing financial support for young people striking out on their own and he knows first hand how important it was for him to have his own flat at college.
Barnardo's is there for all the vulnerable children who are about to make this leap into adulthood and set up home for the first time, independently. With economic turmoil and government cuts this is an era of uncertainty for us all, but none more so than these youngsters. We are asking people to join our fight to make Government see sense. Please visit our website to see how you can add your voice to ours and ensure that the autumn budget statement on Wednesday, December 5, does not include a cut to housing benefit for people under 25.
This is not the Christmas present we want to give these children - they deserve more. Please make your support your gift to them.
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