Osborne’s cut to housing benefit will drive young people into homelessness

By Frances Brill

George Osborne's emergency Budget delivered in many respects, but it failed young people. His plan to cut housing benefit for 18-to-21-year-olds has alarmed people across the housing sector.

A Centrepoint study by the University of Cambridge this week showed the number of young homeless people is over 80,000 – three times the amount the Department for Communities and Local Government estimates. One quarter of young people have experienced unsafe homelessness.

As Campbell Rob, head of Shelter, stated: "This research paints a grim picture." Osborne's Budget will exacerbate it.

It runs against the thrust of the Tories' election promises. The day after the election, David Cameron promised to "build homes that people are able to buy and own". It was a repeat of a manifesto commitment which noted that developers are building "too few homes", leaving young people "struggling to afford a deposit" and being left off the property ladder. The pre-election focus was on providing housing for young people.

There's a good reason for that. Young people are struggling with declining real wages, rising housing costs and a lack of opportunity. The Conservatives said they would fix this. They'd help young people get in to work and provide them with training, apprenticeships and work experience.

But yesterday the chancellor destroyed the chances for many young people living on housing benefit. Shelter said it was "shocked" at the decision to cut housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. This policy will increase the number of young people left homeless, force them to live in situations they may not be comfortable with and limit their opportunities.

Scrapping their chances of independence will not stop them from slipping "straight into a life on benefits", as the Conservative manifesto promised. In a society with growing inequality, it is ignorant to pursue a policy which places even greater emphasis on the individuals who are already most marginalised.

From a Conservative ideological perspective, the government should be increasing incentives for young people to work and giving them the equality of opportunity Margaret Thatcher championed.

But on this front the policy fails. Taking away housing benefits for 18-21 year olds limits their opportunities, leaves them without shelter- a UN human right- and limits their chances of getting a job. A lack of an address for applications, limited access to local authority assistance and general instability will inhibit their chances of sustaining long term employment or education.

The policy assumes people have somewhere else to go and will not become homeless. It implicitly assumes these people would rather be living on housing benefits and have other means of finding housing, which they currently choose not to take.

Research from Shelter showed adverse housing, economic and family trends disproportionately impacting on young people. A mix of structural, economic and personal issues are driving increases in youth homelessness. Decreasing their right to safe and accessible housing is going to worsen the situation and in turn their overall financial standing. It will spur on the cycle of structural problems, leaving a generation with limited opportunities.

Frances Brill is a PhD candidate at UCL. She is involved with Civic Voice, writes for the Global Urbanist and tweets from @fnbee22.

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