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Housing Benefit and Young People

I’ve almost recovered from a bout of apoplexy engendered by the Tories latest ill-considered wheeze to reduce welfare spending by removing entitlement to Housing Benefit from young people under 25. Almost, but not quite. So please forgive any lapses in lucidity in what follows. It may be that once I’ve got the rant out of the way I’ll be able to concentrate on forming a logical and well structured critique of the subject. However, as the Tory policy machine doesn’t seem to bother with logic I may not bother either.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the bare-faced gall of a public educated scion of wealth castigating a whole generation for having an expectation of having things handed to them on a plate. Let’s leave aside too, the vacuity of, Louise Mensch, the Tories top twitterer’s thoughtful “It’s such a lovely day today. Am encouraged by Mail support for housing reform. Necessary stuff.” Let’s focus instead in some of the facts about young people who receive housing benefit at the moment who this proposal will harm deeply.

Justin is 23, he joined the Army at 16 and has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. Justin has been made redundant as a result of the armed forces cuts. However, Justin is one of the lucky ones and has managed to get himself a job. It’s only part-time of course and it’s relatively low paid. He’s used his pay-off from the army for his deposit on a flat and a relatively reliable car to get him to and from work (his hours are antisocial and public transport is non-existent after 9pm because his local council have cut their subsidy to the bus company). Sadly, Justin’s employer loses a contract and cuts his hours, he can no longer pay the rent on his flat without help. Here Justin’s life could follow one of two paths.

Path One

The Tory government have removed entitlement to Housing Benefit from all young adults under 25. Justin falls behind with his rent and can no longer continue to pay his car insurance. Reluctantly, Justin moves back to his parents’ home 100 miles away. He has lost his much of the deposit he paid as the landlord has recovered the arrears from it. Obviously, the move and lack of transport mean that Justin no longer has a job. He claims the new Universal Credit but finds to his dismay that because he left his employment voluntarily he’s not entitled to that either. His self-esteem plummets he has no job and can’t even pay his parents a little towards his keep each week. Justin remains unemployed for well over a year, he gets interviews occasionally but other than a couple of weeks cash in hand labouring, no sniff of a job.

Path Two

When Justin’s hours were reduced the state provided a safety net. Justin was able to claim a little Housing Benefit to help him stay on top of his rent. He keeps his flat and his job and a few months later Justin’s company manages to secure a new contract, pleased with Justin’s work and reliability, increases his hours once more. Justin no longer needs help with his rent. He continues to do well at work and secures a promotion. Throughout, Justin has continued to contribute to the economy. He’s paid tax and NI. He still had some spending power so paid some indirect taxes too. Justin has a little spare time and volunteers at his local Army Cadet Force providing some positive activities for local youngsters who respect his experience.

Which of these two paths benefits Justin and society?

Would Cameron, Mensch et al seriously advocate Path One? Would anyone with an

ounce of sense?

The majority of young people claiming Housing Benefit are in fact working. Often part-time and often at low pay but, they are working.

If the government really want to reduce the HB bill, they would do better to make genuine investment in jobs for young people that give them the self-esteem, confidence and ability to pay their way and contribute to their society. I believe that this is what young people really want – Opportunity and positivity without the constant belittling of them that is fed by organs such as The Daily Mail and ridiculously ill thought out policy which has the sole purpose of appeasing the Tory right and the 1922 committee.

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