The UK Government has announced today that it will amend social security regulations so that all 18 to 21-year-olds will be entitled to claim support for housing costs within Universal Credit.
The Government says its rethink is in line with the Homelessness Reduction Act, which comes into force next month, whilst reiterating their commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.
Young people will also be given “comprehensive and intensive work-focused support”, whether they are ‘learning’ or ‘earning’, as part of the new ‘Youth Obligation‘ scheme.
It also looks as if they need to sign up to, and continue to adhere to, this ‘commitment’ in order to remain eligible for housing support – otherwise known as ‘conditionality’.
Work and Pensions Secretary of State Esther McVey said: “We want every young person to have the confidence to strive to fulfil their ambitions.
“For those young people who are vulnerable or face extra barriers, Universal Credit provides them with intensive, personalised support to move into employment, training or work experience; so no young person is left behind as they could be under the old benefits system.
“As we rollout Universal Credit, we have always been clear we will make any necessary changes along the way. This announcement today will reassure all young people that housing support is in place if they need it.”
Charities and opposition parties cautiously welcomed the Government’s u-turn, but warned that some questions have yet to be answered.
Denise Hatton, Chief Executive for YMCA England & Wales, said: “YMCA welcomes today’s announcement by the Government but we have long argued that the policy was flawed from the outlet and would not deliver what the Government said it would.
“Our 2015 research showed that scrapping housing benefit for young people wouldn’t drive them to ‘earn or learn’ as the majority would find it impossible to find training and employment without having a stable and safe home.
“By removing automatic entitlement to housing support, the Government took away a vital safety net from some of the country’s most vulnerable young people, who have no choice but to rely on it during their times of crisis and need.
“Reinstating housing benefit allows thousands of young people across the country to get the helping hand their need and support them to get their lives back on track.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Labour welcomes this major U-turn and the fact that the Government have enacted another policy from our popular manifesto.
“However, housing support has been frozen until 2020 and young people still face major problems in finding affordable housing.
“The sight of young people sleeping on our streets has become all too common under this Conservative Government. Behind the homelessness figures, there are many young adults having to sofa surf or remain living with their parents.
“Labour will invest in genuinely affordable housing, regulate the private rented sector and ensure that all young people have a secure home.”
SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson Neil Gray said: “This major u turn from the Tories shows they have finally realised that penalising young people – as they had done until now – is simply callous and could only lead to a rise in homelessness for young people.
“Any change of policy in the shambolic and damaging roll out of UC is welcome – but we need to see detail from the DWP on what they mean by saying young people will need to sign up to a ‘youth obligation‘ before accessing this much needed benefit – how that will work.
“We also need clarification on whether or not these changes will be linked in any way with sanctions. Our young people need support into work and into homes and not to be penalised as they start their life by having vital financial support removed from them.
“The SNP Scottish Government has always mitigated this callous policy and provided support to under 21s through the Scottish Welfare Fund, and the social security bill ensured this support would be in legislation – at an estimated cost of up to £6.5 million by 2020.
“It is shameful that it’s taken the UK Government till now before realising this policy was just wrong from the start.
“The Tories think they make any cuts in welfare and get away with it – £4bn in annual cuts to Scotland by the end of the decade. now they have u-turned on this, they can reverse all these cuts and realise people need a helping hand up not pushed into poverty.”