Today, the government made a welcome step towards helping young people escape homelessness. The Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, has dropped the government’s policy to exclude people aged 18-21 from the ability to claim housing costs in Universal Credit.
The change, which was introduced in April 2017, effectively meant that most 18-21-year-olds became ineligible for housing benefit. It was a policy inherited from the previous government; one that we and other homelessness charities warned would have concerning consequences for young people.
We were extremely worried that such a vital source of support had been withdrawn for young people. By going through with this policy, ministers risked being culpable for leaving young people with no choice but to sleep on the streets. Rough sleeping has risen by 169% since 2010, as people’s options become increasingly limited.
Before the implementation of the policy, we worked with colleagues across the sector to reduce the impact of the reform. Not every young person has the luxury of being able to live with their parents, and some people leave home to escape violence and abuse. As a consequence of these discussions, the government listened and gave greater discretion for young people for whom it would have been inappropriate stay at home.
But despite the exemptions, it was still clear that many 18-21s would lose this vital safety net. What’s more, securing an exemption from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could be problematic. Many young people are unlikely to want to reveal things to the Job Centre relating to them living at home. Disclosing details such as sexual abuse and sexuality to a private landlord is itself fraught with risk.
The graphic below also shows the ‘Catch 22’ young people would have faced in trying to secure a tenancy.
So we were thrilled to learn that the government has had a rethink and will amend regulations so that all 18-21s will be entitled to housing support in Universal Credit. Ms McVey stated her government’s commitment to ‘providing young people with the support they need to get started with their working lives’. This is a positive statement, and we will hold the government to account on this principle.
This is also a timely change to Universal Credit, as the Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force next week. This legislation places new duties on councils to prevent homelessness to all eligible households. It is clear that removing housing support for young people would have been a barrier to helping them avoid homelessness.
For now, we should celebrate this massive success for young people; a welcome concession by government, which listened to our concerns. And we hope this change leads to greater co-operation between the DWP and the rest of government to consider the causes of, and solutions to homelessness. The link between shrinking welfare benefits and rising homelessness is unavoidable, and has been noted by the National Audit Office.
This is a good first step on the government’s way to acknowledging this link. We stand ready to continue to press this point to so that we can secure effective action needed to solve the problem.