Repeating the same mistake?Posted: April 5, 2012
I am getting an appalling sense of déjà vu reading a story in today’s Telegraph that ‘young unemployed may be forced to live with mum and dad’.
The ‘radical proposal’ is apparently being worked on by Downing Street and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as ‘part of a drive to make sure people are better off working than on benefits’.
Seen from Whitehall it may seem harsh but logical. After all, the government has just extended the shared accommodation rate (a device that more or less ensures that your housing benefit does not cover your rent) from the under-25s to the under-35s. So why not make things even fairer by cutting it even more for the under-25s? The Telegraph’s Rowena Mason reports:
‘At the moment, people under the age of 25 can get housing benefit to help pay the rent for bed-sits or rooms in shared accommodation if their wages and savings are below a certain level. However, they could be forced to live with parents or other relatives, like many other young people in their first jobs.’
It’s apparently all part of a plan in a speech by David Cameron to ‘get a grip’ on Britain’s welfare bill. There are all kinds of obvious objections. Note, for example, the disjunction between the headline about the ‘young unemployed’ and the story about ‘young people in their first jobs’. That’s not surprising when research by the BSHF has just revealed that in-work households accounted for 93 per cent of the increase in housing benefit claimants between 2010 and 2011.
However, the story gave me a powerful flashback to 1988, when another Conservative government introduced a whole range of cuts in benefits for the under-25s including housing benefit and the complete removal of entitlement to income support for 16- and 17-year olds. Then, as now, the idea was that they would live at home with mum and dad.
Except that it did not quite work out that way. One big flaw in the argument, then as now, was that many young people did not have a mum and a dad, some of them were not welcome at home, some of them found no space at home and some of them had been thrown out of home. The result was an explosion in youth homelessness and a growing scandal of vulnerable teenagers sleeping rough on the streets of London and it was one factor in the establishment of the Rough Sleepers Initiative and all the work that followed.
Let’s hope that the story is either wrong or that DCLG and housing minister Grant Shapps, whose good record on tackling street homelessness includes the No Second Night Out initiative, can help alert Downing Street and the DWP of the dangers they could be about to unleash. Otherwise, the government is about to repeat the same mistake for people born after 1988 – by cruel irony, precisely the generation who are now under 25.