3rd October, 2013

What will happen when young people can’t go to school, college, do an apprenticeship or get a job?

Dear Prime Minister,

Please do not condemn young people who have fallen on hard times to a life on the streets. 
Having turned your back on the notion of ‘big society’ in favour of a more traditional Tory agenda, you are now proposing that under-25s would lose their automatic right to Housing Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance if they refused to take up offers of work, training or education.
Go to school. Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job.” you said. 
When the Education Maintenance Allowance has been cut and University tuition fees have trebled, it’s just not that simple, is it?  With Graduates struggling to find work stacking shelves, how realistic is it in this economic climate, for vulnerable young people to avoid this brutal stick?
Where’s the carrot?  I’m sorry that your flagship Work Programme is failing. I agree, something needs to be done to help young people who are not in education, employment or training.
The system is failing them, for sure.
But I genuinely don’t understand why there is so little time to consider unemployment statistics within the context of the wider economy. 
Nine out of ten ‘NEETs’ want to be in work, education or training,  yet are brushed off as “skivers” in your carefully worded speeches. It’s insulting and dehumanises young people.
But what worries me most, Mr Cameron, is the likely impact of your proposals on youth homelessness.
As stated in a Communities and Local Government report, the overwhelming reason why young people become homeless is due to family breakdown – 70 per cent of 16-17 year olds accepted as homeless said that this was due to a breakdown in a relationship, with 41 per cent reporting that violence had been involved. 
Just in case you missed that – four in ten young people who were accepted as homeless said they came from a violent home.
Being in receipt of Housing Benefit is not a lifestyle choice for most young people.  It’s their only hope.
I had the privilege of doing an evaluation of a youth homelessness project in 2011; just as youth homelessness was on the rise again after a 10-year sustained decline.
As part of the research I spoke to a 17 year old girl who was pregnant and kicked out of the home by her “horrible” step-father.  She spent the first few nights of her early pregnancy rough sleeping in a train station.
I also spoke to a 19 year old young man who spent weeks living in a tent in a field until it was set on fire, after being forced to leave the family home because his parents couldn’t cope with the arguing.
Fortunately, due to the intervention of a great service called Nightstop, these young people found somewhere safe to stay and then found security in longer term accommodation, supported through the (now dwindling) Supporting People budgets and Housing Benefit.
Many young people I spoke to said that once their lives became less chaotic they were able to focus on their studies or job search.  
You said, “But just choose the dole? We’ve got to offer them something better than that.”  
I agree.  We can and must do better by these young people. 
But condemning them to a life on the streets, with all of the associated risks (sexual assault, violence, crime and prostitution), is not the solution.  
Please, Mr Cameron, take the time to speak to some young people who are desperately trying to turn their lives around.  Listen to them.  Get in touch with a few of the amazing services working tirelessly to help them. 
Let’s not go back to the 1980s when we literally had to step over young people sleeping in shop doorways.
Please, take a couple of meetings and listen before you condemn a generation, simply to appease your core voters.

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