Homeless charities have slammed David Cameron’s pledge to scrap housing benefit for unemployed young people.
David Cameron said on Tuesday that a future Conservative Government would axe housing benefit for unemployed 18-21 year olds on Jobseeker’s Allowance, saving an estimated £120 million.
Cambell Rob, chief executive of the homeless charity Shelter, said that for many young people housing benefit is “the only thing that stands between them and the streets”. Removing this vital part of the safety net “would be a disaster”, he said.
Paul Noblet from the charity Centrepoint said: “The young people we support simply cannot return home because their families already live in overcrowded accommodation or because they have suffered violence or abuse.
He added: “Removing more benefits from young people will only cause further misery and homelessness.”
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “For young people escaping abuse; for those whose family relationships have broken down, housing benefit can be all that stands between them and homelessness.
“We know half of all homeless people first become homeless aged under 21. Without the safety net of benefits, many more will end up on the streets.
“A tragic waste of young lives.”
Mr Sparkes warned the main political parties against turning the general election campaign into “a race to the bottom”.
“This election must not become a race to the bottom, where the main parties strive to outdo each other by being ‘tough on benefits’”, he said.
“We welcome positive proposals to offer better training support and apprenticeships, but we must make sure that housing support remains available for those who have no choice but to fend for themselves.”
David Cameron also promised to lower the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000. A move campaigners claim would affect children more than working-age adults and increase poverty.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:
“Let’s be absolutely clear. The benefit cap is at least nine times more likely to affect children than adults, and the majority of adults it hits are lone parents, many of whom have children so young even the Government recognises they should not be required to work.
“Britain is facing a looming child poverty crisis; lowering the benefit cap would bring it several steps closer. It would pile on the misery for working and non-working families already struggling to pay for absolute basics.
“Surely it would also fail the Prime Minister’s own family test.
“Rather than taking away money from the poorest, politicians of all parties need to tackle the root causes of higher social security spending which include soaring childcare and housing costs and low pay.”
However, Mr Cameron said his party’s pledge to lower the benefit cap “tells you everything you need to know about our values”.
“Conservatives believe we should be giving people the chance of a better future while encouraging people on benefits back into work”, he said.
“We want to put people’s hard-earned taxes into lifting people up, not holding them down.
“Over the next five years millions of young people will get a decent start in life, learning a trade, and knowing the purpose and pride that comes with that.”
Shadow Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves MP, said Labour supports the benefit cap and “will ask an independent commission to look at whether the cap should be lower in some areas”.
She added: “But David Cameron can’t hide from the fact that his government has spent £25bn more than planned on welfare because of his failure to tackle the low pay that leaves millions dependent on benefits to make ends meet.”