On a quiet Friday afternoon, the DWP laid draft regulations to end automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. Worryingly, these regulations are due to be implemented incredibly swiftly and will be in force from the beginning of April 2017, less than a month after the initial laying of regulations.
This underhanded move came despite continued efforts by the Scottish Government to find a fix that would allow 18-21 years olds in Scotland to continue to be able to access this payment. Scottish ministers have expressed disappointment and anger that a solution for Scotland was not agreed upon before the draft regulations were published. It is also important to note that these regulations were published before the findings of the DWP’s consultation on supported housing were released, thus ignoring the responses from organisations representing young people especially.
The DWP has said that this measure is to ensure that young people in the social rented sector do not move “straight into a life on benefits”, however this is hugely dismissive of the difficulties that many young people face accessing a home in Scotland and across the UK. Initial research from Centrepoint starkly suggests that up to 9,000 young people in the United Kingdom are now at increased risk of homelessness as a result.
In Scotland, 28% of homeless applications in 2015-16 were made by young people aged 18-24. Although the new regulations exempt young people who are in temporary accommodation, there is a risk that when these young people are offered permanent accommodation, they will struggle to afford it and ultimately be unable to sustain the tenancy, thus falling back into a spiral of homelessness.
When we take into the account the other welfare changes which disproportionately affect the same age group, such as the shared room rate of LHA, we can begin to understand the challenges faced by young people as they attempt to progress with their life. This measure does not do much more than place additional financial barriers on young people as they try to attain qualifications and seek work, often without the support of the regular familial networks and environments that the ministers who crafted this policy more than likely benefitted from.
Scotland has started taking steps in designing a progressive system of social security, which this policy risks undermining. The SNP stated in their manifesto that they would restore housing benefit for 18-21 year olds if Westminster decided to remove it. This time has now come and a fix must be found urgently in order to prevent young people falling into the homelessness system and struggling to get out.
- Aoife Deery is a policy officer at Shelter Scotland