The fight against youth homelessness
In this special guest blog, members of the Youth Homeless Parliament share their views on how proposed government policy changes could affect young people.
Back in March, the Youth Homeless Parliament (YHP) - facilitated by charity St Basils and made up of 16-25 year-olds from across England who have experienced homelessness - assembled at Parliament. The team was ready to address Minister for Local Government Marcus Jones MP on proposed government policies, which they believe will have a direct impact on young people and youth homelessness.
In preparation for the event, the YHP members had considered their views on three key government policy areas of housing, employment opportunities and welfare support.
84 per cent of members were broadly in favour of the ‘youth obligation’ - the requirement for young people who have been on Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) for over six months to undertake training, apprenticeships or a work placement. YHP members believe that this scheme should help young people attain the skills, routine, experience and confidence needed to introduce them into paid employment.
However, they warned that vulnerable young people - perhaps staying in different places during the course of an apprenticeship - will need opportunities tailored to their situations which take into account the individual's location. They also emphasised how important they feel it is that young people have encouragement from mentors and access to 'taster sessions', and that preparation courses which will build confidence, knowledge and self-esteem are offered as soon as young people start to receive JSA.
Sharing his lived experience, YHP member Harry - who is supported by Depaul in London - said that the positive side of his apprenticeship was that it was "a full time position with training, qualifications and paid work experience."
But Harry felt that the lack of suitable accommodation at housing benefit/welfare rates was something that needed to be addressed: "I found it hard to survive during this period, as all my money was going on travelling. I was on a minimum apprenticeship wage of £3.30 per hour at the time."
While YHP members welcomed the help to buy scheme, they explained that in their view it is not aimed at young people like them on low incomes, but more affluent people. They also welcomed new measures to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector (PRS) and suggested that introducing fines will encourage landlords to improve standards. However, YHP young people were also concerned they would not have access to the PRS due to the need for deposits and Local Housing Allowance caps.
100 per cent of the YHP members disagreed with freezing Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates and shared major concerns as to how this will impact on homeless young people both now and in the future. Each and every member also disagreed with removing automatic entitlement to housing benefit for young people aged 18-21.
Housing benefit: a much-needed lifeline
YHP spokesperson Sean Marsay - from the National Youth Reference Group (NYRG) - said: "Young people from the YHP insist that exemptions must include vulnerable young people supported by homeless charities, like us."
One young woman named Kirston - supported by St Mungo’s Broadway - shared her story, saying: "I became homeless when I was 16 years old. I had a short period of sleeping on the streets and sofa surfing. At the time of going into a hostel my self-esteem was very low, but the staff at the hostel supported me to build myself up.
"I had to leave home due to family arguments. Since I left I have managed to rebuild things with my mum, but returning home is still not an option. I am currently doing a college course… not being able to claim housing benefit would force me to return home and would place a strain on family relationships again. I would be very anxious about things going wrong and being homeless again."
The fight against youth homelessness
Holi Parchment - an NYRG member who is supported by St Basils - summarised her feelings about the event, saying: "At 5:30am, while most of you are warm and safe in your bed, while sweet dreams caress your slumbering form, elsewhere - potentially even on your neighbouring streets - young homeless people are waking up. They're being violently awoken: forced to search for a new place to reside.
"The date was 15 March 2016. 100 young people travelled from near and far in order to be involved in a prestigious union of voices. Marcus Jones MP, I thank you for breaking through any preconception I have harboured towards politicians. We were really listened to, we were respected, we were treated as equals: an utterly refreshing experience, which proved absolutely essential in the fight against youth homelessness.
"I truly hope that we have made you think differently and that action will result. A continuous collaboration of minds is required in order to ensure that when we sleep safely in bed at night, we do it collectively as a nation."
- Find out more about YHP
- BLOG: 'There is a need for a new youth housing offer'
- TRAINING: Introduction to homelessness (16 September, London / 28 November, Coventry / 14 December, London)
- SAVE THE DATE: Homelessness and allocations conference (29–30 November, Leicester) - more information to come!