Simplistic approach to housing benefit fails to protect vulnerable young people

By Linda Jack

| 09 October 2012

Anyone who believes in equality must be alarmed at the Tory proposal to cut housing benefit to young people under 25. 

As if our most vulnerable young people had not already been hardest hit with one million of them unemployed, the removal of legal aid and the cuts in a range of benefits. As Shelter pointed out yesterday, over half of those affected already have families of their own. Goodness knows how many more will be care leavers or those leaving custody. 

As anyone who has ever worked with homeless young people knows, the usual reason for them becoming homeless is family breakdown, this proposed legislation is based on a flawed rose-tinted view, no doubt coloured by the experience of a pampered cabinet members who imagine everyone has the same experience of family life as them.

Where violence is involved, on either side, is it really sensible to force young people back into situations where either they, or their family are at risk? And what of that other flagship policy of bedroom tax – what of families that are forced to downsize and then find they have a son or daughter under 25 who has lost their job and will now be forced to return home? And what of families that are joint tenants where parent and child depend on housing benefit in order to afford a property with enough space for both of them?

Unfortunately, this is another dog whistle policy – designed to pit the poorest in society against each other, demonising anyone who, for whatever reason, has to rely on state help for however short a time.

As those of us who have studied Maslow’s hierarchy of need recognise, shelter is one of our most fundamental human needs. It beggars belief that in the world’s fourth richest country would actually think it’s OK to see even more of our young people on the streets. Ironically it was only a couple of days ago that the Scottish government highlighted the growth of a young homeless sub-class.

The attitude displayed by Osborne that living on housing benefit was a lifestyle choice is not only a smokescreen, it is plain wrong. Another example of trying to tackle the unacceptable behaviour of a few by hitting the many, a ridiculous attempt to ignore that fact that there are fewer than 500,000 jobs and three million unemployed, or the fact that one million of them are young people.

It may be that this proposal is another example of Tory kite-flying. If not, I hope it will be met with fierce resistance by my fellow Lib Dems in government – but if the past couple of years are anything to go by – I’m not holding my breath.

Linda Jack is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families

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