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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Zoë Anderson, Start360 - Impact of housing cuts on the young

Zoë Anderson is the Communications Manager at Start360. Start360 is the new name for Opportunity Youth and is Northern Ireland’s leading provider of support services to young people, adult offenders and families in the community, providing a range of services and interventions in the areas of health, justice and the economy. The organisation has grown to be the one of the biggest youth organisations in Northern Ireland, working with almost 20,000 young people, vulnerable adults and their families in each year. Start360 offers a diverse range of interventions from family support, counselling, mentoring, and advocacy through to group work and intensive residential experiences. To find out more, visit www.start360.org

The impact of housing-related cuts on young people

In the last week, we learned that the Northern Ireland unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds is currently 23.2%, compared to the UK average rate of 17.6% - these aren’t easy times for our young people. Many of those who are employed are in part-time work or on zero-hour contracts, while those who are currently in education have no guarantee of work afterwards. Jobseeker’s Allowance is already paid at a lower rate for those who are under 25, while Housing Benefit for many of those aged under 35 is paid at a ‘shared room’ rate; expecting that people in this age group will share accommodation rather than rent their own home.

Scrapping Housing Benefit for young people

The Prime Minister announced at the Conservative Party Conference last October that the government is reviewing the provision of benefits to young people and it is expected that the next Conservative manifesto will include the scrapping of Housing Benefit for  under 25s. This is an alarming proposition. Many of our young people rely on the help they get from Housing Benefit – not just those who are unemployed but also those who are in low income jobs or who have additional physical or mental health needs. Where will they go if they lose that little bit of help? Returning to the family home is not an option for a lot of people – their parents may have passed away or moved to smaller accommodation, they may have been thrown out of home when they were younger or they may have left a violent or abusive situation. Their parent(s) may be dealing with addiction, have caring responsibilities or be in ill health themselves. Where will those young people go? Will cutting the welfare budget simply lead to increased homelessness? How will a young person hold down a job while ‘sofa-surfing’ or living in hostel accommodation?

Suitable housing makes a real difference

For the young people we work with, access to suitable housing makes a real difference in their lives. Getting help to find, furnish and pay for accommodation is key for a young person leaving custody and vital in helping to prevent reoffending – that doesn’t mean plasma TVs, games consoles and double-size fridges… it means cutlery, plates, an iron, towels and bedding – the things so many of us take for granted. Having access to Housing Benefit means that JSA or earnings can be used to provide these essentials. Appropriate support in areas such as money management and mental health is also important to young people setting up home for the first time, for whatever reason. Setting up home can be vital to keeping young people out of custody or away from abusive relationships.

Appropriate emergency accommodation is needed in a number of areas such as for young people leaving custody or in times of crisis. This should not simply be a bed for a few days or weeks, but rather a long term placement in order to let the young person engage in long term interventions. Without the support of Housing Benefit, such a model would not be accessible to those who need it.

In summary, access to Housing Benefit should not be removed from any section of the population – particularly not from those under 25 who need to claim it. Without help to pay for housing, either while unemployed or starting off in the world of work, too many young people will have nowhere else to go. It’s a tough enough world out there – we shouldn’t penalise our young people further simply because they’re young!

Read Zoë Anderson's three housing related wishes

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This article was written on 26 March 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.