Mary Glindon MP: Removing housing benefit for under-25s is a cheap trick

Removing housing benefit for the under-25s is a cheap trick to try to win political support but it won’t raise or save money overall, writes Mary Glindon MP.

My debate is an opportunity to ventilate deep concerns about the Prime Minister’s proposals to remove housing benefit from the under-25s.

Nearly 400,000 households headed by an under-25 year old are claiming housing benefit. Over half have dependent children. Over half claim housing benefit for short periods of less than six months.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated: “A critical issue here is how the government would distinguish between those who can and cannot reasonably be expected to live with their parents.

For example, more than half of Housing Benefit spending on under-25s goes to individuals who themselves have dependent children: might the government include them in the group who could reasonably be expected to live with parents?”

I fear that removing these benefits would be a major detriment to their prospects of employment and the well-being of their families.

It is another illustration of how out of touch this government is with people. Some young people can move back into the family home or choose to stay to save for a mortgage deposit.

But there are myriad reasons such as keeping a job elsewhere, fleeing domestic violence, or simply because there is no room in the family home why thousands of under-25s cannot return.

Others simply do not have a family to take them in.

These are people who have no choice but to claim housing benefit until they get back on their feet.

Frankly, it’s something of a cheap trick to try to win political support but it won’t raise or save money overall and those who are expected to favour it politically will find that it affects people they know and trust.

I will give a case study to humanise this debate. One of these concerns James. After being admitted to care at the age of 10 and separated from his sister, James’ relationship with his mother was never the same again, despite returning to her care later down the line. James’ relationship with his mother got worse and worse as he was frequently in trouble with the police.

James eventually permanently moved out of home aged just 16.

Moving from one house to another, James was left with nowhere to go which resulted in him living with friends. James was only able to find stability when he came to Centrepoint and relied on housing benefit while he got back on his feet.

Since coming to Centrepoint, he has completed an apprenticeship in building maintenance and is building a career in construction.

Without housing benefit, James would never have been able to take this chance.

Response: Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of the umbrella body Homeless Link

Our young people face rising rents and high levels of unemployment. Homelessness amongst the under-25s has also increased – often driven by relationship breakdowns in families.

This idea, if it comes to pass, will do little to help young people with no family home or no option but to move out. Nor will it help those who have to claim housing benefit because they are in low paid jobs and face high rents. In fact it could have a devastating effect on youth homelessness.

We need to be realistic about family life and ensure that ideas to save money today, do not risk damaging the prospects of young people with no family to fall back on. We should instead be investing in their futures.

Last December, Homeless Link published ‘Young and Homeless’ the first research indicating that youth homelessness was on the rise. We are due to publish a new report in early December.

The report makes a number of recommendations to help prevent youth homelessness and reduce the impact that it has. These include:

Ensuring that changes planned by Government to the welfare system do not cause higher youth homelessness;

Protecting cost effective advice and prevention services, such as family mediation, from local authority cuts;

Protect the Supporting People funding which pays for housing related support

Finding alternatives to B&Bs to provide accommodation for young people such as Nightstops;

Making it easier for young people to rent private sector housing and make sure they don’t get squeezed out by rising rent costs and increased demand for housing;

Ensuring that local authority housing and social services’ departments work better together to meet their legal requirements to 16 and 17 year olds; and

Providing better access to education, training and employment for young people who find themselves homeless.