The cost of evictions, homelessness and temporary accommodation would all but wipe out the controversial policy’s predicted savings
How will George Osborne cut £12bn from the welfare bill? We’ll find out next month but it’s looking increasingly likely that plans to remove housing benefit from 18- to 21-year-olds who are unemployed and claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance will be form part of it.
This could be disastrous for the most vulnerable young people in our country. From more than four decades of experience supporting homeless young people, we know that the vast majority of young people who claim housing benefit do so as a lifeline at a time of crisis, not as a lifestyle choice. Among these young people are care leavers who have no home to return to and individuals who have fled domestic violence. Then there are those who have left home to find work and claim housing benefit to bridge the gap between their wages and ever-increasing rents.
A blanket removal of housing benefit from 18- to 21-year olds would affect nearly 20,000 young people. It also runs the risk of not only increasing homelessness but also could fail to deliver the promised savings to the taxpayer.
The government estimate the policy would save £120m, but the spike of homelessness it would cause will wipe out £115m of the savings – leaving just £5m left after the costs of increases in evictions and temporary accommodation
Even if exemptions for the most vulnerable, such as care leavers and those with children were to be put in place, the reductions in savings and the added costs of supporting those not exempted who become homeless would lead to a saving of just £3m.
The evidence is clear: there is little guarantee that the savings can be delivered, but plenty of evidence that youth homelessness could rise.
If this government is serious about reducing the benefits bill while supporting young people into work they must move beyond certain groups of claimants and tackle the root causes of the spiralling benefits bill – rising rents and the chronic problem of housing supply.
The result of dwindling housing supply has seen rents in the private sector rocket. The taxpayers’ money is bypassing claimant’s bank accounts and falling directly into the lap of profiteering landlords. If the government wishes to reduce spending on housing benefit, the answer is not to focus on young people with nowhere else to go but to increase the supply of truly affordable homes.
At the end of May the prime minister will have the opportunity to set out his view of what our country should be. We hope that now the election is over he will choose facts above rhetoric, and put tackling the root causes of the housing benefit bill above short-term political gain. Cutting housing benefit for 18- to 21-year-olds will leave thousands of young people without a safety net, and that’s a price no government should be prepared to pay, however big the deficit.
Paul Noblet is the head of public affairs at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint