“Can’t afford a home of your own? Tough, live your parents” (David Cameron, 2012)
Dr Eleanor Wilkinson, lead researcher on an Economic and Social Science Research Council project – ‘Hitting home: Young people, housing welfare reform & equalities law’ – responds to new Government regulations to remove automatic entitlement to housing benefit for young people aged between 18 to 21.
For the past two years, researchers at the University of Southampton have been investigating the lives of young people affected by changes to housing benefit in Britain. The project has spoken to young people from across the country about their lives and housing situations.
Dr Wilkinson argues that it is important to recognise “housing benefit for young people is not a ‘lifestyle choice’, but is providing a necessary safety net in moments of crisis”.
“The government have introduced this policy because there’s an underlying belief that young people on housing benefit are somehow at an advantage when compared to those who are not receiving benefit, that they are able to unfairly leave the family home before they are economically independent. However, from our research we’ve found that the stereotype of young people ‘playing the system’ is unfounded. None of the young people we have interviewed had wanted to go onto housing benefit, or saw it as an easy option. Many were living in sub-standard, crowded shared accommodation. But they were doing so out of necessity, they simply had nowhere else to go”.
This policy change is based upon the belief that parents have a responsibility to provide a home for their children until they reach economic independence (even though legally in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland parental responsibility only lasts until a child is 18).
But as Dr Wilkinson notes: “Not all young people have a safe family home to which they can easily return. Our research has focused on key groups who are at risk of homelessness, such as LGBT youth. Many of these young people we spoke to had been cast out by their families”.
“We are concerned about what impact this policy will have on these young people’s wellbeing. The government is removing a vital safety net. Statistics show that homelessness has increased in since 2010, and these changes will only serve to exacerbate this problem”.
While there have been attempts by the government to protect the most vulnerable, such as care leavers and those who are risk of harm by living with their parents, Dr Wilkinson is concerned that these plans are simply unworkable:
“The burden will now be on the young person to prove that it is not safe for them to live in the family home. The government need to abandon this policy as it is putting vulnerable young people at serious risk”.
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