THE BLOG

Budget Won't Create a Youth Homelessness Funding Crisis - We're Already Facing One

07/07/2015 21:53 BST | Updated 07/07/2016 10:59 BST

The aftermath of the Budget will be dominated by talk of who is better or worse off, but will it come too late for some of the most vulnerable people in our society? Support for youth homelessness is not on the verge of a funding crisis. It's already in one.

New research commissioned by Centrepoint from the University of Cambridge estimates that the true scale of youth homelessness in 2013-14 is not 27,000 young people as the government estimates, but actually 83,000.

Successive governments have been making policy in the dark, with official statistics only recording the number of homeless young people local authorities have a legal duty to house. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland this includes only those in 'priority need' such as young parents, under-18s or care leavers.

This narrow definition means thousands of young people go unrecorded as being in need of housing, even if they have been rough sleeping. The statutory figures also only include those accepted as newly homeless so do not take account of those already homeless at the start of a financial year.

Staggeringly, nearly three times more 16-25 year-olds may be in need of housing than previously thought. If this higher figure is taken as the basis for allocating financial resources then it not only explains why councils and charities are already struggling to support homeless young people, but it also highlights the danger of further cuts in central government funding as successive governments have been making decisions based on false assumptions.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that since 2010 the Department for Communities and Local Government budget has fallen by almost 30%. During this Parliament they estimate that this budget - which included central government funding for homelessness projects and the financial settlement for local councils - will fall by a further 18%.

When looking for departmental savings ministers will of course prioritise funding according to demand. If a problem is thought to effect 27,000 young people it will be prioritised differently to a problem affecting 83,000 - or potentially even more given the patchy data available.

But in an-age of big data it is simply not good enough for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make decisions based on incorrect or partial statistics. There will always be disagreements about funding priorities, but at the very least that dialogue should be a fully informed one. Homeless young people deserve a safety net based on more than guesswork.