Those of us working in the housing and homelessness world were very concerned to learn from last week’s Queen’s Speech that the government intends to cut housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. Many young people don’t have the option of living with their parents, the main causes of youth homelessness being domestic abuse, relationship breakdown or lack of space in the family home. For these young people, housing benefit can make all the difference to whether they will become homeless and therefore at risk. The policy could have disastrous consequences for the most vvulnerable young people in our society such as care leavers who have no home to return to and those escaping domestic violence. The government has indicated that those with nowhere else to go will be protected but we know from our long experience of working with young people that it can be very difficult to tell which young people need support the most. This policy is intended to save money by reducing the benefits bill but my worry is that it will actually contribute to an increase in youth homelessness.
Elsewhere in the Queen’s Speech, the extension of the ‘right to buy’ for housing association tenants was announced. Of course, it’s great news for those individuals who thought they would never be able to afford to buy their own homes. But again, this has caused great concern; here at the Centre we just can’t see how forcing housing associations to sell properties is going to address the chronic shortage of accommodation in the capital. In a recent client survey at the Centre, which asked our clients “What keeps you awake at night?”, worries about housing was right at the top. Yet in one fell swoop, it has been decided to introduce measures to reduce rather than increase the availability of affordable housing stock. I have to confess that I simply don’t understand the logic – economic or otherwise – of these new policies. I do know, however, that organisations such as the Centre will be under even greater pressure in helping people try to make ends meet.
There is a solution of course, and that is a consistent year on year investment in building affordable social housing in the places where ordinary people already live and can work towards a secure future. However, that is a long term solution. In terms of now, I can’t help but wonder is there any chance this side of heaven of introducing a system that makes rents fair and affordable?