Using peer research to campaign for change

04 February 2022

How we work with young people to research youth homelessness

In October 2021, Centrepoint published new research looking at how the benefits system is working for homeless and disadvantaged young people.

I was part of the peer research team, using my own skills and experiences to engage with young people and staff and find the information we needed.

I’m currently studying for a degree in counselling and coaching, and aspire to be a child psychologist as I’m passionate about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people. That same passion inspired me to want to be a part of something that supports young people, but in a different way.

I’ve also had first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a young homeless person – I've used Centrepoint’s services myself. This project was an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than me.

Coming up with the concept

To start, we created a group of young peer researchers from London and Yorkshire, and got together on Zoom over a number of weeks. Initially we had a more general discussion about the benefits system, sharing our experiences and suggesting ideas for the focus of the research, how we wanted to conduct it, and any key points we wanted to make.

We also did some online training with Centrepoint, where we learned how to plan a research project, different research methods, and the importance of making sure our research was completed safely and ethically.

Our primary focus

After a few planning sessions, some common themes began to stand out. With this in mind, we wanted to devise a research project that would both cover all areas whilst also leaving room for new information.

We decided to go with a few different research approaches to get the information we needed, conducting national surveys of homeless young people, and interviews and workshops with young people and staff. Because of Covid-19 this research mainly took place online, but I did have the opportunity to speak to some young people and staff face-to-face, using the interview guides we had made as a group and the skills I learned from the training.

What we found was that many young people are really struggling with the benefits system. They are not getting the support they need. In particular, benefit levels for under 25s are too low, which impacts negatively on their health and wellbeing and can even put young people at risk of exploitation and abuse.

So the peer researchers regrouped in London with all this new information, and we came up with a set of recommendations to improve the benefits system for young people.

Campaigning for change

Our next step is to use this research to campaign for change and let MPs and politicians know what it’s like to be a young person facing homelessness.

Each of the peer researchers brought their own unique experiences to the project, which means there will be many young people across the country who can relate as they may be in similar situations. It’s good for young people to get involved in research like this – it means their views are represented and they can really have a say in what the key areas are to focus on.

For me, I will be using my research and campaigning skills for my university degree, and to help me reach my own goals – and I will always be fighting for young people!