This weekend, in an interview with the Daily Mail, David Cameron announced he was considering cutting housing benefit for the under-25s. After a week where high earning tax avoiders have been in the spotlight, this is an attempt at distracting voters from the real culprits of Britain's financial mess and punishing some of the country's youngest and most vulnerable people.
As a filmmaker, I recently worked on a documentary about youth homelessness in the UK, and let me assure you, for every one of the Mail's "feckless under 25s" claiming benefit, there are more who are doing so out of desperate need and feel shame enough for not being able to support themselves. They have done nothing wrong to be treated with such public disdain.
Cameron stated that cutting the benefit would shave £2 billion off the welfare bill, which the Chancellor wants another £10billion cut from between 2015 and 2017. This is in addition to the £18billion being cut during the current parliament. Having being warned that 80% of spending cuts are to come, we are now beginning to see what the Conservatives' vision for our country is; a hollowed-out rump of land with an insecure population reliant on the hand-outs of charities should anything go wrong.
Cameron said the present housing benefit system sent out "strange signals" to young working couples who complained of being unable to buy or rent their own home when the state would pay for welfare claimants to privately rent. He said that the 380,000 claimants affected would have to either find another way of supporting themselves or move back in with their parents.
But with youth unemployment at over one million, and a quarter of those out of work for over a year, as figures released last week showed, a major reason for the bulging housing benefit bill is simply lack of jobs. Having cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance earlier this year, the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training will only continue its inexorable climb. And this is disregarding the many housing benefit claimants who are in work, and use the money to supplement low salaries, perversely undermining these people's efforts at making a life for themselves.
It displays Cameron's shockingly narrow frame of social reference to suppose that those claiming can simply move back in with their folks. Most claimants' parents do not live in houses with spare room for adult children, much as they would like to provide for this basic need. Some parents will be claiming housing benefit themselves, at risk of losing it if they are found to be housing someone else, even if it is their own child.
For the most sorry stories, see what happens to the young people told to go back and live with the parents they've fled from, or been kicked out by, and see how these numbers grow as rising unemployment and welfare cuts shorten fuses within family homes. Many people claiming housing benefit will be doing so because they're vulnerable adults who need stability in order to thrive as functioning members of society, not threatened with homelessness.
It seems entirely unfair, and entirely in keeping with this government's attitude, to whip away yet more of the ground underneath the feet of our country's young people. Their housing situation is tough enough. They're being squeezed out of the rental market by those who can no longer afford to buy their own homes, and from this year, face competition from 25-35 year olds on housing benefit who are no longer allowed to claim for a flat and will need to find rooms in shared houses. There's little social housing, hostels are closing and legal aid for housing issues has been restricted. These are difficulties felt most acutely by the vulnerable.
The government's latest attempt at solving this housing crisis appears to be to try and eradicate the need for affordable housing, rather than investing in a supply of homes appropriate for its country's needs. But we may see the results of this stance soon enough, if homelessness begins to rise to the ugly levels of the 1980s and early 1990s, the last time the Tories were at the height of their powers.