Repeating the same mistake?

I am getting an appalling sense of déjà vu reading a story in today’s Telegraph that ‘young unemployed may be forced to live with mum and dad’.

The ‘radical proposal’ is apparently being worked on by Downing Street and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as ‘part of a drive to make sure people are better off working than on benefits’.

Seen from Whitehall it may seem harsh but logical. After all, the government has just extended the shared accommodation rate (a device that more or less ensures that your housing benefit does not cover your rent) from the under-25s to the under-35s. So why not make things even fairer by cutting it even more for the under-25s? The Telegraph’s Rowena Mason reports:

‘At the moment, people under the age of 25 can get housing benefit to help pay the rent for bed-sits or rooms in shared accommodation if their wages and savings are below a certain level. However, they could be forced to live with parents or other relatives, like many other young people in their first jobs.’

It’s apparently all part of a plan in a speech by David Cameron to ‘get a grip’ on Britain’s welfare bill. There are all kinds of obvious objections. Note, for example, the disjunction between the headline about the ‘young unemployed’ and the story about ‘young people in their first jobs’. That’s not surprising when research by the BSHF has just revealed that in-work households accounted for 93 per cent of the increase in housing benefit claimants between 2010 and 2011.

However, the story gave me a powerful flashback to 1988, when another Conservative government introduced a whole range of cuts in benefits for the under-25s including housing benefit and the complete removal of entitlement to income support for 16- and 17-year olds. Then, as now, the idea was that they would live at home with mum and dad.

Except that it did not quite work out that way. One big flaw in the argument, then as now, was that many young people did not have a mum and a dad, some of them were not welcome at home, some of them found no space at home and some of them had been thrown out of home. The result was an explosion in youth homelessness and a growing scandal of vulnerable teenagers sleeping rough on the streets of London and it was one factor in the establishment of the Rough Sleepers Initiative and all the work that followed.

Let’s hope that the story is either wrong or that DCLG and housing minister Grant Shapps, whose good record on tackling street homelessness includes the No Second Night Out initiative, can help alert Downing Street and the DWP of the dangers they could be about to unleash. Otherwise, the government is about to repeat the same mistake for people born after 1988 – by cruel irony, precisely the generation who are now under 25.


7 Comments on “Repeating the same mistake?”

  1. joehalewood says:

    Jules – this story appalled everyone I think and typifies the knee-jerk and non thought-through nature of this Coalitions ideas, sorry policy!

    It appals from a moral dimesnion and Im sure this will form the basis of most objections to it ever becoming a policy. Yet it also appals from a democratic dimension. Pay tax from 16 years of age but you cant get (housing) benefit until you are 25 is just so wrong for so many reasons.

    This ‘proposal’ also shows that DWP is leading the agenda over CLG in housing and is another fascinating dimension. The agenda is a priori a cost-saving one from DWP and regardless of the impact it has on housing. Yet will it cost more? The only housing provision other than remaining at home for the under 25s will become homeless hostels – unless of course they are to be banned from taking the under 25s! You begin to see my point about the ill thought-through nature of this ‘proposal.’ An explosion in youth homelessness but with nowhere for then to go!!!

    Finally, I’m sure if this kite-flying were ever to even begin to be introduced there must be a legal challenge to this on the right to a home. It cannot be lawful for a government to ban the under 25s from having the right to a home. I suspect this is no more than spin to deflect away from the average (2010 figures) £41pw shortfall between the SAR and the rent level for the under 25s which is far more than the proposed bedroom tax 25% reduction for a single person living in a 3 bed council house.

  2. julesbirch says:

    Thanks for the comment and the good extra points Joe – funny how these kites always seem to be flown at bank holiday time!

  3. […] 10 plan to cut housing benefit for the under-25s and force them to live at home with mum and dad. As I blogged at the time, it was horribly reminiscent of what happened in 1988 when Conservative cuts in housing benefit for […]

  4. […] plans leaked of a Downing Street/DWP plan to cut housing benefit for the under-25s (see my blog here) as part of a plan to cut welfare by another £10 billion and in May the Telegraph reported plans […]

  5. […] prepare to hear more about the next stage of the Conservative reform plan already signalled by David Cameron. Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  6. […] housing benefit from the under-25s. As I blogged at the time, it completely ignored what happened the last time a Conservative government tried something similar in the late 1980s. Then, following a series of leaks about welfare cuts, including possible regional benefit caps, […]

  7. […] Cameron seems determined to press ahead with the idea he first raised in April and then again at the Conservative conference in October. At prime minister’s questions […]

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