THE BLOG

The Sofa Surfing Epidemic Shows No Signs of Relenting

30/03/2016 16:57

We all think about the concept of home differently. Arguably it is simply a pile of bricks, steel and glass but emotionally it means much more to us. Our home is the place where we can recharge our batteries or spend time with the people we care about. It can be a symbol of our independence, a refuge from conflict or the single, stable factor when our life is filled with challenges. The shocking fact is that if you are under 25 finding this all important home - whether it's a flat share or your own place - is becoming almost impossible to afford.

Government figures on statutory youth homelessness would have us believe the number of young people finding themselves without a home has decreased over the last five years, with the percentage of 16-24 years olds seeking housing help, dropping from 33% to 24%. But these figures discount the thousands of young people in insecure housing, getting by through finding a place to crash where they can and sleeping rough when they can't.

The decision to live independently is a key stage in the journey to adulthood. For some young people it comes when they finish school, go to college or start a first job. For many others it is not a choice when conflict in the family home makes it impossible for them to remain. In both situations supporting the young person into a safe, secure home and helping them to manage the transition so they stay there is crucial.

But young people looking to live independently face some huge financial challenges.

The first is a lack of suitable housing stock that has led to an exponential rise in rental costs. The ONS reported in 2015 that rents were rising at their fastest rate for three years with the biggest increase in London, where prices had risen by 4.1%.

The second is that young people have been hit badly by changes to the benefits system. The DWP suggests that 88,000 vulnerable young people in England will be affected by the expansion of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) limiting the amount of housing benefit a young person can claim to the rate for a single room in a shared house. Crisis estimates that the average loss in benefits for those affected will be £41 a week - the difference between a roof over your head and sleeping in a mate's living room.

Finally, it's a daunting learning curve managing a home for the first time. Young people need to get their heads around rental agreements, utilities, furnishings as well as feeding and clothing themselves. It all costs money.

The effect of this financial squeeze is a growing number of the hidden homeless - young people in insecure housing who are rough sleeping and sofa surfing. Most shocking of all, Centrepoint reports that 65% of these young people are studying, in employment or in a work or apprenticeship scheme - including 22% who are in paid employment.

My charity, The Mix, provides essential support to under 25s through digital, social and mobile. We are often the first place young people turn to when they seek help. Every day young people contact us wondering where they will sleep that night. We do our best to signpost them to specialist colleagues on the ground and to provide information that gives them the personal and financial skills to stay in their homes. Last week we launched Home Truths - a virtual house packed with information and video content designed to support young people living independently for the first time.

The Mix has seen a 51% increase in young people seeking housing help in the last year. What is painfully clear is the knock on effect that living without a home has on their self-esteem and mental well-being. We desperately need to find more affordable housing for young people and to up-skill them as they transition into independent living to ensure that every young person can find and sustain a stable place that they can call home.

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