State sanctioned destitution for young people?

Read our blog written by St. Basils CEO Jean Templeton on how the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift will impact the young people we work with.

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Many from all quarters and political perspectives are making the case to government to retain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit which has helped cushion the harshest impacts of Covid, for those not used to dependence on benefits and those who required this assistance before Covid.

For young people, it has meant much, much more. It has taken them from below the UK definition of Destitution, as defined by the public, in JRF Destitution in the UK studies[1] (Fitzpatrick et al), and whilst not quite bringing them up to Minimum Income standards identified in the work of Loughborough University[2](Hirsch et al), has for many, enabled them to just about manage. Removing this modest amount will plunge many under 25s, without access to family support, back into destitution.

With access to the wealth of research on living costs, poverty, and its implications, you might ask, on what basis are benefits worked out? Is it Minimum Income Standards? Is it an estimate of the costs of essential living requirements?  Apparently not.  It appears to be largely based on historical and ideological views, which we know are generally limited by our own experiences, tinged with unconscious bias and lingering ideas of deserving and undeserving. For young people, the general policy driver is that young people should remain in the parental home until they are able to pay their way from their earned income. But what if that’s not possible or safe?

We don’t want young people to be dependent on benefits indefinitely. We want them to be able to live, work, earn and learn and to have a safe, affordable housing offer which enables that. For the least experienced citizens, we need to reduce not increase complexity. If it takes a village to bring up a child, we need to think about contemporary universal and community parenting. How do we enable our young people to learn, develop, build relationships, take up apprenticeships and entry level work, pursue their dreams and make mistakes, in a safe way? We want to ensure that’s possible for all young people, not just those with access to Bank of Mum and Dad. In the long term, it’s better for everyone, young people, inter-generational, society and the State.  

For those of us working in housing, we need to take notice, as our tenants and their families and those on our waiting lists grapple with these challenges; as debt increases, and choices fall between a rock and a very hard place.

The real cost is both social and financial for all, including the state.  If Landlords can’t afford to rent at LHA levels, and tenants can’t afford to top up from benefit levels, what happens? Take for example, the recent proliferation of lease-based, non-commissioned exempt accommodation, high rents, indefinite occupation, little if any support in the worst cases, trapping people in unemployment with no progression; generally paid for by the State.  Cost comparisons between Housing First and indefinite exempt accommodation rents illustrate this graphically, even without factoring in the costs of support.

There is a social care crisis and much discussion about it; upstream social support is also critical, as Prof Paul Burstow[3] says, late spend is always more costly than early spend, but how to make the shift is the question?

I share the view that affordable housing needs to relate to people’s incomes, not just be the name of a product.  I also believe that we need a youth housing offer which underpins young people’s ability to live, work, earn and learn without the complexity of perpetually dual navigating the benefit system. [4]

Fundamentally though, we need a social security system which prevents rather than sanctions destitution!

I could go on, but my foray into Blogs, tells me they should be short…

Jean Templeton

Chief Executive, St Basils

[1] https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/destitution-uk-2020

[2] A Minimum Income Standard for the United Kingdom in 2021 | JRF

[3] Paul Burstow: Mental health—time to stop chasing demand and start tackling the causes - The BMJ

[4] https://stbasils.org.uk/projects/live-and-work/