Former Centrepoint service user, Sharon Zan, writes a letter to the Prime Minister calling on the government to prioritise increasing support for homeless young people.
Message to Liz Truss
Liz Truss must remember a group that are too often forgotten when a government makes decisions about who to support and how – vulnerable young people.
As someone who has experienced homelessness and now works as a support worker in London, I am also volunteering for Centrepoint, the charity that supported me, as a policy researcher to campaign for change.
During the start of the pandemic the Government introduced a £20 uplift to Universal Credit. This meant that young people had enough money for food and other bills, which was a great help. However, within the past year, the Government removed this vital uplift, leaving one in three vulnerable young people to go a whole day without food due to lack of money. Centrepoint’s recent research found that 62 per cent of homeless young people do not have access to a healthy diet, which is needed for normal growth and development.
I was homeless in 2016, and the monthly Universal Credit amount of £250 was simply not enough to eat enough nutritious food or look after myself properly. This is what’s known as food poverty – and it led to me having health issues, such as low iron levels. I don’t want young people today to go through what I, and so many others, have experienced. No one deserves to experience food poverty - the Government needs to improve the social security system for young people.
Struggling on a low income damaged my mental health. I couldn’t cook healthy meals and I found it difficult to manage a monthly budget. Centrepoint helped end the cycle of homelessness for me - I received diet support, therapy and learnt how to budget. But not everyone receives this kind of support.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should provide budgeting support to young people who need it and offer the choice for fortnightly payments too.
However, with Universal Credit not keeping up with prices, it is clear that young people can’t budget their way out of this cost-of-living crisis.
Some of the young people Centrepoint supports are living on less than £5 a week after paying for rent, bills and other essentials. I believe it’s vital that the Government overhauls the support it’s offering young people to help them overcome these obstacles, thus helping to end youth homelessness.
That’s not to say that the Government hasn’t supported homeless young people in lots of valuable ways - including through the benefit system, investing £2 billion over the next three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and announcing a £28 million funding boost to help those sleeping rough get their COVID-19 vaccines and move into safe accommodation.
Increase Universal Credit
But a major problem that remains is that young people receive 16% less Universal Credit than claimants aged over 25 years old. This is often justified by the assumption that many young people live with their parents – but this is often not the case for young people escaping homelessness.
Living costs aren’t lower just because you’re young – in fact they’re rising just as rapidly. That’s why Centrepoint want to see the Government raising the overall Universal Credit amount for young people living without family support to the same amount as adults over 25 years old. This will help young people to avoid facing rent arrears and other debts.
The new Prime Minister will have a very full inbox to deal with when they enter office and top of the pile will be the cost-of-living crisis. I would like to see the new Prime Minister do all they can to ensure that those like me have the support they need, including providing help with energy bills and ensuring Universal Credit better matches the cost of bills and other essentials.