We have a homelessness crisis. And young people are especially at risk with 103,000 across the country homeless or at risk of being so in 2017-18.
With the acute shortage of social housing, young people are forced into the private rented sector. But rents are soaring. And the housing benefit for under 25s is capped at a level much lower than the rent they’d have to pay.
The situation is especially bad in Brighton and Hove because housing benefit is set at a regional level and our city is ranked with other nearby towns where the cost of housing is much lower. Housing support falls well short of covering the real cost of accommodation in the city.
That’s why I secured a debate at Westminster Hall to highlight the issue.
The figures on homelessness among young people paint a very bleak picture. Nearly half of those living in supported accommodation like hostels are under 25, but they can’t move out and find their own home because the welfare system discriminates against those under 25.
This isn’t only bad for their futures. It means they are having to stay in hostels, blocking places from others who may be in even greater need, because they cannot afford an alternative roof over their head.
In Brighton and Hove, housing benefit for homeless young people is just £360 per month. Search on Rightmove for a shared room for that amount and you’ll find just parking spaces or garages.
A care leaver is entitled to a higher benefit of about £690 a month, but only until their 22nd birthday. Then it falls to the lower level, a drop in income of more than £330 a month. So just at the moment when they might be finding their feet and making their way in the world, they lose vital support and risk being evicted and made homeless.
This doesn’t affect a handful of people. There were nearly 300 care leavers aged 17-21 in Brighton and Hove last year.
These are people who can’t rely on the bank of mum and dad, who are unable to return to the family home to save costs and who may have experienced terrible trauma growing up. They are dependent on public support and it is being denied them.
I have two key asks for the Government:
1) End the age discrimination against the under 25s so they can get the same housing benefit as an older homeless person.
2) Extend the local housing allowance to care leavers until they are 25 years old, so they no longer face a sudden drop in their support on their 22nd birthday.
It would cost just £3.7 million a year to give vulnerable homeless young people the chance to move on – and £6 million to continue supporting care-leavers with their housing costs until they are 25.
Less than £10 million to give young people, who may have had the worst start in life, a better chance of turning their lives around and reaching their potential rather than falling further into chaos and danger. It would be money very well spent.