Welfare cuts ‘exacerbating’ youth homelessness, charity warns

Changes to benefit entitlements for young people, together with a shortage in genuinely affordable homes, is “exacerbating” youth homelessness in England, according to a revealing new report from the charity Homeless Link.

Researchers found that while family breakdown remains the main cause of homelessness among young people, making up half of cases (49 per cent), changes to welfare benefit entitlements and a lack of affordable housing are making matters worse.

A shocking 92 per cent of respondents to a survey from Homeless Link said delays in Universal Credit payments are having a detrimental impact on youth homelessness, while 90 per cent said benefit sanctions are having an effect and 80 per cent said the capping of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is also also having a effect on youth homelessness.

The UK Government recently announced a dramatic and unexpected U-turn on axing Housing Benefit for 18-21 year-old’s, reversing the draconian policy for young people claiming Universal Credit. It means that all 18 to 21-year-olds will be entitled to claim support for housing costs within Universal Credit.

Announcing the change of heart, Work and Pensions Secretary of State Esther McVey said: “We want every young person to have the confidence to strive to fulfil their ambitions.

“For those young people who are vulnerable or face extra barriers, Universal Credit provides them with intensive, personalised support to move into employment, training or work experience; so no young person is left behind as they could be under the old benefits system.

“As we rollout Universal Credit, we have always been clear we will make any necessary changes along the way. This announcement today will reassure all young people that housing support is in place if they need it.”

However, today’s report shows there is still a long way to go to resolve the growing homeless crisis, as 55% of homelessness agencies report report an increase in demand for services.

Other findings from the report include:

  • 45 per cent of all respondents reported an increase in young men sleeping rough, while 28 per cent felt more young women were sleeping rough
  • 28 per cent of young people accessing homelessness services over the last 12 months were aged only 16 or 17
  • 82 per cent of homelessness services recorded an increase in those with multiple and complex needs
  • 37 per cent said their is a lack of services available to prevent youth homelessness
  • 67 per cent said women-only accommodation was hard to access, while 58 per cent felt that emergency accommodation was challenging to secure.
  • 67 per cent of councils, occasionally or often placed homeless young people in B&B’s in the last year – up 31 per cent on the previous year.

Related: Majority of Councils in England struggle to find housing for homeless people

Thelma Zunzanyika, who was involved in developing the research, said: “The research that is being conducted concerning youth homelessness is very important because it helps to identify why there is a high number of young people that become homeless.

“For me, being involved in this process is quite vital, because I stand as an advocate who can aid the decrease of youth homelessness showcased in the report through sharing my lived experience.”

Homeless Link’s Chief Executive, Rick Henderson, said: “The picture of youth homelessness is extremely concerning and there is clear evidence that systemic issues, such as welfare reform and the housing crisis are worsening the situation.

“While youth homelessness charities and councils are working hard to successfully support many young people away from homelessness, more needs to be done.

“It is vital that we focus on preventing homelessness among vulnerable young people and that those who do become homeless are able to get the support they need.

“Our research helps to identify trends, and better understand the causes of youth homelessness and where gaps in services exist, so that national and local government and the voluntary sector can improve the support on offer.

“The Homelessness Reduction Act and tailored service initiatives will have a significant role to play but must be backed by enough funding and resources. There is no excuse for failing young people – we must ensure that everyone has a place to call home and the support they need to keep it.”