Benefit Sanctions Driving Increased Demand For Youth Homelessness Support

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

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The increased use of cruel benefit sanctions is affecting the ability of young people to access accommodation, a damning new report reveals.

More than 90% of charities surveyed for a new report say benefit sanctions affect the ability of young people to find accommodation, with financial problems due to benefit reductions increasing from 1.7% in 2013 to 10% in 2014.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that young people are far more likely to be sanctioned than older jobseekers, with 594,192 jobseekers aged 18-24 subjected to adverse sanction decisions since October 2012, compared to 98,273 of 45-49 year-olds over the same period.

Homeless Link research reveals the shocking truth that 52% of people who seek help with homelessness are under 25, at an average cost of at least £3,876 per case. The research takes into account young people who approached both councils and charity services, whereas government figures only include formal homelessness applications made to local authorities.

The report says the support available to prevent homelessness among young people under the age of 25 is “simply not good enough”. 40% of councils surveyed as part of the report said they lacked the tools to prevent youth homelessness. And councils are failing to prevent homelessness in 8 out of 10 cases, even though 92% carry out home visits to identify young people at risk of becoming homeless.

Charities say they have increased the amount of support available to young homeless people, in response to an admittance from councils that they are struggling to cope with rising demand. However, 74% of charities report having to turn young people away because an individuals needs were “too complex”, or because they did not have the capacity to help.

58% of homeless under 25s suffer from poor mental health, learning disability, substance abuse or offending behaviour. 57% are classed as NEET (not in education, employment or training). Homeless Link says the “complex problems faced by young people underline the need for effective support to help them leave homelessness behind”.

19% of under 25s surveyed for the report said they had to sleep rough before they found any support, an increase on the previous year. Homeless Link also says there are signs that young people are sleeping rough for longer, while waiting to be offered suitable accommodation.

6 in 10 young people become homeless because friends and family can no longer house them. This can be caused by a family breakdown or financial issues, among other reasons.

Some young people are forced into leaving home because of abuse or violence. The report highlights the need for suitable accommodation for this group of young people, such as night shelters and emergency supported accommodation. 94% of councils said they placed homeless young people in a bed and breakfast, which can be unsuitable for victims of domestic violence or other violent crimes. Only 6% of councils said they never use inappropriate Bed and Breakfast accommodation to house vulnerable young people.

The National Youth Reference Group – that includes young people with an experience of homelessness – and the charity Homeless Link have made the following recommendations:

  • A positive pathway model to be implemented in all areas, with clear protocols for integrated working.
  • Schools and other types of youth provision to increase education on homelessness, focusing on the realities and how to find support.
  • Investment in timeout projects and suitable emergency accommodation to allow young people and their parents respite before relationships reach crisis point.
  • An improvement in the benefit sanctions process and consideration given to the impact any future welfare reforms will have on homeless young people.
  • The expertise of young people who have experienced homelessness to be utilised wherever possible; e.g. within mediation services, as part of peer mentoring schemes, and through paid and voluntary work within the sector.
  • Government to support local authorities to improve data recording and monitoring in order to help ascertain the scale of youth homelessness, monitor trends and observe the impact of prevention work.

Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of Homeless Link, said:

“This report shows that far too many young people are being affected by homelessness and that councils and charities across England are struggling to respond. We know that a focus on prevention works, yet many areas are missing an opportunity to tackle the issue before it develops.

“Too many young people are being denied the opportunities to realise their potential that most take for granted. We know that local authorities are under incredible financial pressure, but intervening early saves lives and money. We’re calling on all local areas to ensure young people and families are given the support they need to prevent homelessness and the development of issues that can be difficult to overcome.”

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Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

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