The summer or ‘emergency’ budget on July 8th is going to be painful – it is at this point we will find out where the axe will fall, how hard, and on who.
Sadly, there is already a group of people who we know will be singled out for cuts; young people claiming housing benefit. The Conservatives have been floating the idea of removing support for young people in various forms since 2012. Originally, it was all 18-25 year olds and Shelter was at the forefront of opposition, helping to block it under the Coalition.
In its new 18-21s guise, the policy has clearly been toned down – in no small part thanks to our vocal opposition – but we still don’t think that’s good enough. There should always be a safety net for those struggling to pay rent or facing homelessness, whether you’re 21 or 91.
But since we helped see off the policy last time a lot has changed. There is now a majority government and, what’s more, they have an electoral mandate to implement their manifesto – and that includes removing housing benefit from 18-21s.
Whether we like it or not – and whether we oppose it or not – it will almost certainly happen. After years and years of fighting, this may seem defeatist but it’s definitely not – it’s about recognising where we’ve been successful, where we need to adapt and where we need to do more.
Public campaigning is, and always will be, one of Shelter’s defining characteristics – we are bold and passionate in what we do – but we can’t win every battle this way. So what happens when our public campaigning can’t quite get us over the line?
The most important thing we do is not give up – just because we’re not on the 6 o’clock news chained to the gates of Downing Street doesn’t mean our work stops.
When a policy like 18-21s rears its head, Shelter gathers as much evidence – stats, opinion polls, case studies, impact assessments – as we can, to demonstrate what it means for the people we help; we look at long term trends and project what the changes will mean in future for people’s lives, the economy or society; we talk to politicians form all parties to understand what’s driving the change; and then we make the best case we can face to face with those in power.
Sometimes that means having to accept that politicians disagree with us on the overarching principle and recognising when they are determined to introduce reforms. Crucially, in those cases, Shelter can, and does, play an important and constructive role behind the scenes in making sure harmful impacts are as limited as possible.
And it works – like when we successfully opposed the 10% reduction in housing benefit for anyone on Job Seeker’s Allowance for more than a year, under the last government. You might not remember it because it never made it onto the face of the legislation – we killed it quickly and decisively by talking to politicians behind the scenes to point out the ill effects.
We’ve gathered thousands and thousands of petition signatures to stop cuts to housing benefit for young people, but now our focus is on backing this up with evidence, being the experts, and making the case to politicians.
If we can’t defeat this outright, we will try and secure exemptions to make sure those young people who simply can’t live at home with their parents – care leavers, victims of domestic violence, and those who have been or are homeless – are still able to claim housing benefit to live the independent lives they need.
We will always campaign on housing and homelessness – whether by mobilising our tireless supporters or by making our case behind the scenes – it’s why we exist.