Prison warning over 'disastrous' housing benefit plans
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Local Government
Prison warning over 'disastrous' benefit plans
A Midlands charity has warned that plans to cut housing benefit to the under 25s would be "disastrous" and would lead to a surge in high cost crisis services and increased demands on prison places.
David Cameron is expected to announce the Government is looking at removing the automatic right to housing benefit for the under 25s in a wide ranging speech on the future of welfare today.
He is also expected to indicate that the government is considering "time-limiting" Jobseeker's Allowance in a bid to cut welfare expenditure and get people back into work.
Many of his ideas for change are for the next Conservative manifesto not the coalition Government.
However, charities have united to condemn the plans.
Midlands charity, the Mayday Trust, supports over 500 people per year. It provides accommodation and life skills training to help vulnerable people take control of their lives.
People come to the trust through referrals made by statutory and voluntary organisations (e.g. Social Services, MIND, CAB, Police, Prison Service) and also by applying directly themselves (self-referrals).
It says cutting housing benefit would be "disastrous" for young people and the catalyst for a surge in high cost crisis services and increased demands on prison places.
CEO Pat McArdle - who is writing directly to the Prime Minister to express her concerns, urging him to rethink the plans - said: “Many of the young people under 25 we support have no families or carers and need our support as they are not emotionally mature to survive without that support.
“If the housing benefit was removed these young people would end up in high cost crisis services or prison. It is of great concern that the Prime Minister is showing just how out of touch he is with the challenges faced by young people."
McArdle added: added: “The majority of the young people we see have mental health issues, a learning disability or have been physically or sexually abused. Many of these are not fortunate enough to have family support and so the changes would potentially result in a vast increase in the cost of crisis services and on the emergency and prison services.”
It's understood the Government will ensure there are exemptions for special circumstances and the Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said today these were the examples of detail the Government now wished to engage in discussion on.
He said: "The question [David Cameron] is posing, and one which I think is quite genuine, is to what degree is this caused by families realising, that to some extent, they can get a child of theirs into social housing if they’re no longer living at home, whereas other families not on benefits actually retain those people at home and say ‘stay here, work here until you’ve got enough money to buy a house’.”
Campbell Robb, Shelter's Chief Executive, said the move would "inevitably lead to a rise in homelessness".
He said: "At Shelter we know that many young people simply don’t have family and friends to fall back on if they lose their job, and rely on housing benefit to keep a roof over their head.
"At a time when many young people are facing significant difficulties in finding work, these proposals would leave thousands with nowhere else to go. They would also present serious problems for vulnerable young people, for example care leavers and those who have experienced family breakdown.
"Currently over half of young people who rely on housing benefit to pay a private landlord will be on benefits for less than six months while they are unemployed and look for work.
"And since previous changes to housing benefit will force people with spare rooms to downsize and penalise those with adult children living at home, these policies appear completely contradictory.
"It’s outrageous that the Government is considering undermining the housing safety net yet again. Sadly it seems inevitable that we’ll see an increase in homelessness as a result."
David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents England's housing associations, said preventing those under-25 from getting help for housing costs may increase homelessness and make it harder for young people to move to where they can find work.
He said: "We all want a fair housing benefit system that supports those truly in need. A home is fundamental to providing the security people need to hold down jobs and be an active member of their community. Preventing those under-25 from getting help for housing costs may increase homelessness and make it harder for young people to move to where they can find work. There could also be a huge impact on young working families relying on housing benefit to help pay their rent, or disabled people unable to work.
"The best way to keep the housing benefit bill down, by addressing the supply side, is to ensure there are enough decent quality, affordable homes. By supporting housing associations to build more homes, the Government can stimulate growth and keep rents low, which in turn stops people being caught in the poverty trap caused by high rents.
"Housing associations are working hard to implement the latest round of welfare reform changes. We need time to understand what the full impact of these changes will be before instigating more."
Gavin Smart, director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “Fair access to a decent affordable home for everyone should be a fundamental feature of our society.
"But the debate must be based on fact, not assumptions. We should not assume that most housing benefit claimants are long-term unemployed. The most recent figures show that the fastest-growing part of the housing benefit caseload is from tenants in work - this has grown by 95% in the last three years - more than twice the rate of increase due to unemployment.
"We need to ensure that we protect the most vulnerable people in our society - whether they are over 25 or not, we need to provide housing support for those who are truly in need and have a range of genuinely affordable housing options.
"We need a fully functioning housing system so that people have viable options - this is what will really help to reduce the housing benefit bill. The government could do a lot to help achieve this aim by supporting an increase in the number of new affordable homes being built, whether through direct investment or by issuing guarantees to support private investment.
"Affordable homes have lower rents and so put less pressure on the housing benefit bill. Not only will this help solve our housing crisis, but it would also provide a welcome boost to the economy.”
Crisis today condemned the proposals suggested by the Prime Minister as "counter-productive, ill-considered and irresponsible".
Leslie Morphy, Crisis' CEO, said: "Everyday at Crisis we help vulnerable young people who have become homeless to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives by supporting them to move into accommodation. They will typically have escaped from violent or difficult homes - the Prime Minister's suggestion today that they be forced to return to stay with their families is just not an option.
"At a time when youth homelessness is already on the rise it would be deeply irresponsible and would cost the taxpayer more in the long-term.
"But it is not just the very vulnerable who will lose out. Housing Benefit is rightly claimed by people who are in work but whose pay is too low and local rents are too high - taking housing benefit from them will cause them to have to uproot and most likely lose their job and not be able to find another.
"And the proposal does not even make sense - single people under 35 are already only entitled to a much lower rate of housing benefit and the Government's previous changes to housing benefit will force families in social housing to downsize so they have no spare rooms and penalise those with adult children living at home, encouraging them to leave.
"Instead of floating such irresponsible ideas the Government should be focusing its energies on helping young people back to work, ensuring there is a strong safety net to prevent, reduce and resolve homelessness for all and building many more genuinely affordable homes."
John Wade, managing director, Bromford Support, said: "This should be taken in the spirit of thinking out loud. The idea of cutting housing benefits for all under 25s is preposterous.
"The people we house face a whole range of challenges and problems from violence to homelessness. Many have no money, nowhere to go, no family and no support.
"If housing benefit for under 25s was cut, it would create a whole mass of social issues including more prison sentences and psychiatric problems which would cost the taxpayer more than housing benefit does. So, I would say, stay calm, it’s an idea. Let’s engage in a sensible debate."
Matt Harrison, Interim Chief Executive of Homeless Link, said: “Many young people just don’t have the option of living with their parents. For them Housing Benefit provides a vital safety net, preventing homelessness and giving the breathing space many need to become independent.
"According to our research, not only is youth homelessness on the rise but the number one cause for homelessness among the young is relationship breakdowns with family and friends.
“We welcome the recognition that some young people have nowhere to live but we also need to recognise the scale of the problem. If we remove Housing Benefit without a credible alternative, we risk damaging the life chances of thousands of young people and storing up problems for society in the long-run.”
Campaigners, Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ), said the measure will take the country "back to the Victorian times".
It plans to highlight the difficulties young people face in finding affordable housing by organising 'the Austerity Games - a pre-event to the 2012 Olympic Games.
Claire Laker- Mansfield, YFJ Spokesperson, said: "Cameron’s latest comments on housing benefit for under 25s represent a cruel and vicious attack on young people. In particular, this will hit the most vulnerable. His crass comments, condemning young people who attempt to live as independent adults rather than with their parents throughout their early twenties, stink of an out of touch prime minister unable to understand the lives of those not lucky enough to have his own hyper-privileged background."
Paul Callanan, YFJ national organiser, said: "If carried out, these benefit cuts could infantilise a generation. With 1 million people unemployed, rents going through the roof and wages stagnating all at the same time, this will make the prospect of moving out a distant one for many young people. It is also bound to cause a huge rise in homelessness, as not all young people have a family either able or willing to support them in this way. These attacks will take us back to Victorian times, with the poor reliant on the hope of philanthropy by the wealthy to prevent destitution or even starvation."
The 'Austerity Games' will take place on Hackney Marshes on Monday, July 23 at 2pm. Events will include the Property High Jump, Race to the bottom and Student debt weightlifting.