More jobless youngers could be made to live on the streets as the Government moves ahead with plans to end housing support payments for under-21s.
The cut, which will apply to new Universal Credit claims made after April 1, was first announced by David Cameron and included in the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto.
Despite calls by homelessness charities for Theresa May to break with her predecessor drop the policy, on Friday officials published secondary legislation to go ahead with the plans, while most MPs were at home in their constituencies.
Charities have pointed out that the plan will save almost no money and could drive up homelessness, and disproportionately affect LGBT people or those estranged from their families. Ms May previously promised to build a “country that works for everyone” and has ditched some policies supported by Mr Cameron.
Recent research by Heriot-Watt University found that once exemptions were included the policy would save just £3.3 million pounds. Researchers calculated that just 140 young people would have to be made homeless by the change for knock-on costs to mean the policy actually cost taxpayers more money overall.
Research by Housing charity Shelter reported earlier this found that five households are now being made homeless every hour.
A series of exemptions included in the legislation include people classed as vulnerable, families, and those who have been in work for at least six months prior to claiming – as well as those working at least 16 hours a week.
Roger Harding, director of campaigns, policy and communications at Shelter, warned that despite the exemptions “tampering with this vital safety net will result in more young people being left to fend for themselves on the streets”.
“The option of being able to live with your parents is not one that is open to everyone. These cuts will affect those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in desperately difficult situations,” he said.
“Whether these young people are escaping an abusive household or thrown out because of their sexuality, they’ll now have the added, sometimes impossible, burden of having to prove they can’t go home. If they can’t, their only option may be to sleep rough.”
Paul Noblet, of homelessness charity Centrepoint, said that the “ill-judged policy” risked forcing “thousands of young people on to the streets”.
“The government’s plans could both cost the tax payer more money than it saves and force more young people into homelessness,” he added.
Labour’s shadow Secretary of State for Housing John Healey said the policy would make homelessness worse.
“This disgraceful cut to housing support will leave thousands of young people with nowhere to go. Many could end up on the streets,” he warned.
“These young people are old enough to fight for their country but, in Theresa May’s Britain, not old enough to get the same help with housing costs as everyone else.
“Ministers would do well to remember that the shameful doubling of rough sleeping since 2010 is a direct result of decisions they have made. With this decision they will make the scandal of rising homelessness worse still.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron branded the cut “shameful” and suggested those without family to turn to would be worst hit.
“These cuts are an utter disgrace. Many of our most vulnerable young people rely on housing benefit for a roof over their head, especially if they have no family to turn to,” he said.
“Without this funding there will be a rise in young people forced to live on the streets and living at risk of physical and emotional abuse. This is a shameful decision by a heartless Conservative Government.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that the cut to support was actually good for young people.
“We want to make sure that 18 to 21-year-olds do not slip straight into a life on benefits, which is why we are helping young people get the training, skills and experience they need to move into a job and build a career,” the spokesperson said.
“This government is delivering on its commitment to ensure young people in the benefit system face the same choices as young people who work but may not be able to afford to leave home.
“We know that personal circumstances will differ so we have worked closely with charities and the housing sector to develop a fair and robust set of exemptions to protect the most vulnerable young people.”