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The Government Is Deserting Young People - And It's Not Just Brexit

06/04/2017 16:40
Matt Cardy via Getty Images

In his first Budget following the election of a Conservative majority government in 2015, George Osborne announced that the automatic entitlement to housing benefit would be scrapped for 18-21 year olds.

Along with many other changes, it signalled a new direction which the Tory government would take; forcing through damaging policies which the Liberal Democrats had resisted in coalition. After inevitable outrage, the housing benefit cut was swept under the carpet until it surreptitiously re-emerged this year.

The changes are set to come into force this week, meaning under-22s will no longer be entitled to apply for housing benefit. Even including the exemptions, it is thought that around ten thousand young Universal Credit claimants will be put at risk of homelessness. In the long term, those numbers will continue to grow.

The Government repeat the fraudulent claim they support people who are "just about managing". The statement becomes hollower by the day. What about those people whose jobs rely on unfettered Single Market access? What about the teenagers whose ambitions are being stunted by school cuts? And what about the young adults who rely on housing benefits to keep them off the street, or support them while they are trying to find a job?

As the junior partner in a coalition government, the Liberal Democrats had to make some very difficult choices. We stepped up to govern at an unprecedented moment in British politics, during the biggest recession since the Great Depression. As we know, it was a decision which cost the party electorally, but ultimately it was the right thing to do.

Fast forward two years, and we now know what an unrestrained Conservative government looks like: the NHS and education system drastically underfunded, climate change policies scrapped, child refugees abandoned abroad, and the country speeding towards a Hard Brexit cliff. On so many issues they seem to have been fulfilling manifesto promises, but from Ukip's manifesto, not their own.

The government's latest decision is not only deeply unjust, but naïve and short-sighted.

By rendering thousands of young people vulnerable, the Government claims it will save around £100 million over the course of the Parliament, but this is a false economy. Think about the state having to support those who couldn't find a job because they struggled to afford housing, the NHS budget stretching to thousands more mental health patients, or the police resources used to tackle more young people caught at the wrong side of the law.

According to Centrepoint, homelessness costs the state an additional £12,200 per individual per year. Therefore, a policy which harms young people's chances could end up costing the state in the long term. You have to ask yourself the question: what is there to gain from this?

In Great Britain, 79,861 people aged 18-21 claim housing benefit, including 140 in Damian Green MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions' Ashford constituency. Many of these young people will be affected by the Government's plans to remove the essential safety net of housing support.

Just like the outcry against National Insurance hikes for the self-employed, even some Conservative backbenchers are furious. The Tory MP David Burrowes, for example, lambasted his own Government for taking a decision which would "pull the housing rug from vulnerable young people".

Most of all, it is young adults themselves who have to right to feel aggrieved. If these changes are allowed to pass, many more young people will be forced to live on the streets, exposed to physical and emotional abuse.

In this day and age, in one of the richest economies in the world, it is profoundly distressing to see young people let down in such a way. Future ambitions unfulfilled because we can't put a roof over their heads.

The Government want as little fuss as possible: to slip the rule change through while the public are distracted by the bigger, more glamorous debates.

We cannot let that happen. We cannot sit by and let young people fall through the cracks, as the Conservatives stack the cards against them. From Hard Brexit to struggling schools, the interests of our future generations are being completely ignored.

An opposition exists to hold the government to account, which is what the Liberal Democrats will continue to do. Our success in the debate over letting agency fees, in which several months of tough campaigning forced the Government to commit to a ban, goes to show what strong opposition can do. It was a landmark moment for renters' rights, and showed what we can achieve in helping tenants.

Just as we did behind the scenes of the Coalition Government, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will continue to fight for the rights of young people.

The right to have a roof over your head is a fundamental one, and we must defend it.

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