The social security system is a vital lifeline for thousands of young people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage across the UK. However, this peer-led research project into the benefits system finds that in many areas, the system is falling short of providing the support and resources that young people need.
This report, generously supported by Trust for London, looks at the experiences of homeless and disadvantaged young people in London and across the country who interact with the benefits system. For thousands of young adults across the UK, financial support through the social security system provides a vital lifeline to help meet essential living and housing costs. In July 2021, almost a million young people aged 16-25 directly claimed some kind of social security benefit to support their income.
However, this research finds that for some of the most vulnerable young people in society, the benefits system is not providing the security and support that it should. A major challenge is overall levels of benefits: most young adults aged under 25 face significantly restricted entitlements compared to the general population, while successive welfare reforms have disproportionately affected the incomes of claimants in younger age groups.
This report explores the experiences of vulnerable young people who rely on the social security system. The focus is on those living in supported accommodation and claiming Universal Credit and Housing Benefit, although the experiences of young people claiming disability benefits and support through the legacy system are also investigated. This report also focuses on living costs and the experience of making and managing claims and is not a detailed look at the housing costs elements and general housing affordability, although these are again touched on.
Key findings and recommendations
- Benefit rates for young people living independently are too low. This research found evidence of serious hardship and of young people near-constantly struggling to meet essential living costs.
- Many young people going through homelessness struggle with the initial claims process, and it can still be extremely difficult for young people and staff to contact the Jobcentre Plus or DWP directly about a claim.
- The five week wait for a first Universal Credit payment creates major difficulties for young people, who do not have savings or support to fall back on. Advance Payments mean young people start their claims in debt, and have to survive on even smaller monthly payments.
- Complicated benefits rules for people in supported accommodation can make accessing work even more difficult and in some cases leave young people worse off after increasing their earnings or taking on more hours.
- Introduce a new Youth Independence Payment of £15.58 per week for young people living independently without family support. This would raise their overall Universal Credit entitlement to the rate that over 25s receive in recognition that they face the same living costs.
- Remove the five week wait, or provide non-repayable benefits advances to vulnerable young people without access to financial support when they first make a claim.
- Reinstate work allowances for under 25s living in supported accommodation to help this group to access work and ease the transition from benefits to paid employment.
- Increase the applicable amount within housing benefit, so that residents in supported and temporary accommodation do not face steep cliff edges when moving into work, and are not disadvantaged compared to those not living in supported accommodation.