The publication of YMCA research into young people and the welfare system last week was disturbing. In particular the impact sanctions are having on already vulnerable young people, forced to go without food and other essentials. I personally fail to see how this helps anyone.
Last autumn I was responsible for producing a report on the financial education needs of vulnerable young people for the Financial Education All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). As part of this I facilitated a focus group for young people from Centrepoint, DePaul and Cardboard Citizens to explore their attitudes to money and get them to feed in to the recommendations of the report. What was most striking for me was the number of young people who had been sanctioned – often not understanding why, or because of circumstances beyond their control. What madness is it that seeks to kick someone when they are down? For young people without the usual support of family or friends this is devastating. I am intrigued as to how the powers that be imagine that starving someone, or forcing them to steal to eat is either humane or effective.
One of the recommendations we made in the APPG report was that young people who face sanctions should be offered an alternative of attending a workshop on managing their money – rather as those found guilty of speeding can opt for a safer driving course rather than taking points. I hope this is an idea that the DWP may be persuaded to take up.
The other issue highlighted by the YMCA is that of young people being unaware of the introduction of universal credit and the impact this will have on them. We all know students who blow their student loan in the first week of term – there are real concerns about whether Universal Credit may create the same phenomenon. We are still in a little limbo around Universal Credit – there are some who wonder if it will ever really materialise – but if it does, at the moment it is certainly likely to create more problems than it solves. It must be in the government's interest to make sure that those affected understand what it is and how to manage the change personally – not least when it involves needing to budget and ensure paying rent is at the top, not the bottom, of your essentials list.
We must never forget that it is the economic situation, largely created by those who still have jobs and earn obscene amounts of money, that has led to so many of our young people being unable to find work. Let's not make the situation they find themselves in a double jeopardy.
Linda Jack is a member of the Parliamentary Policy Committee for Education, Young People and Families, and former member of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Policy Committee