As part of David Cameron and George Osborne’s Budget announcement in 2015, plans were made to strip those aged 18-21 of the ability to claim housing benefit, which were set to come into force in April 2017. They were put on hold after the fierce opposition received from all sides, but have crept back into the radar under Theresa May.
The plans are thought to possibly affect an estimated 11,000 young people who cannot or do not want to live with their parents. The government is hoping to save £95million, which is only 13% of the total that was spent on claimants in 2015. The saving will be negligible, and 11,000 people is quite a small number in financial terms for the UK. This inability to claim housing benefit may leave them desperate and sleeping on the streets in dangerous situations, in which case cash-strapped councils are obliged to provide them with expensive emergency accommodation.
The Department of Work and Pensions said that the move is intended to “make sure that 18- to 21-year-olds do not slip straight into a life on benefits.”
On April 1st, there was a large protest in Westminster in order to show the government that the plans needed to be stopped, or rethought at the least. Organiser Pete Roberts said that he was inspired after hearing reports regarding the possibility of bringing back the government policy change. He looked around for a protest but failed to find one.
“Myself and a few friends then decided to make one of our own in order to raise awareness of it and stand up for young people up and down the country. This will affect thousands of people in complex ways.”
The Housing Benefit provided people with security who may not have had that support in their home lives. Pete tells Actus that he had come from an abusive household which forced him to leave home at aged 16, from there he relied on benefits and housing benefits until he was able to get sorted. For people like Pete, the housing benefit operated as a means for stability and when people lose stability then that is when all kinds of crisis can occur for people, he says.
There is an ‘exemption system’ planned which wants to ensure those at serious risk mentally or physically are still helped, but this involves having to prove on a daily basis that you are indeed homeless and in need.
Pete added: “They have mentioned that [the changes] will not apply to vulnerable people and care leavers, however they have not stated how they intend to deem who is vulnerable and who is not. This is something we cannot trust the government to do properly.”
The official advice is that people under the age of 22 should move back in with their parents if they aren’t able to live independently. Yet the Government is likely fully aware that many do not have this option; it is rare that childless, single, unemployed young people move out of their family home by choice, particularly in the current climate with the shortage of affordable housing and poor economy. Claimants with children or who are in work are part of the exemption system, but it is those who don’t have a choice but to move out of their home who are at the most risk here.
“There are so many complex situations where an 18-21 yr old is unable to return back home. Not everybody falls into a desperately vulnerable situation but it is a sliding scale and there will be lots of people slipping through the cracks who are not supported by the system and ending up homeless or back in an abusive household/health threatening scenarios.” he added. Housing benefit gives many of the these young people a lifeline and allows them to take their first steps towards making a new life for themselves.
No plan has been made to deal with other, more complex situations either – what about if young people don’t feel safe or confident disclosing their reasons for moving out of their home to their parents or the council, such as if they are LGBT? Or if it isn’t actually easy/possible to prove that you are struggling within your home environment, such as if you are being mentally abused? Pete says that the LGBT community have been overlooked and failed by the government.
“They’re not a small community and make up millions of our population yet they are a demographic with a high number of homelessness because they have been rejected from their families for coming out or identifying as LGBTQ, likewise many of them faced abuse in their homes but unfortunately this will not be a sufficient reason under the terms of exemptions, for their them to claim benefit. they will suffer from this heartless piece of legislation.”
The added strain that may be seen for the NHS and local services however, including mental health services and charities which are already under pressure, is thought to be way above the amount that would be saved. So is this policy really about fiscal saving? Pete suggests that the measure is more about Tory ideology, as many of these austerity measures are. “Poverty is an outcome of a system like capitalism that doesn’t work properly..we wouldn’t need these benefits if housing rental prices were reasonable and the working wage was higher,” he added.
So what can be done to help? Keep a look out for future demonstrations on their facebook page ‘We Stand Together?’ he says that participation in these protests will help to raise awareness of the effects that these cuts are having because, he says, the mainstream media managed to slide it through the very agendas of who will be affected. His call for action is to sign the Parliamentary petition calling upon the government to stop these cuts and to speak to your MP about these issues.