This scoping report explores the homelessness and housing experiences of young women, using in-depth qualitative interviews with young women and key stakeholders, analysis of Centrepoint’s Youth Homelessness Databank for 2021/22, and a review of existing research data relating to women’s experiences of homelessness. In doing this the report reflects the challenges faced by this cohort in attempting to move on from homelessness and lead meaningful lives.
Despite the large number of women experiencing homelessness, there is a significant lack of women-specific homelessness services in England, with only 10 per cent of services providing female-only accommodation. Our research found that many homeless young women would prefer to be housed in women-only services. In particular, young women with experiences of domestic abuse or sexual exploitation by men often feel unsafe to stay in mixed accommodation.
Additionally, the research found the benefits system is leaving many vulnerable young women at risk of financial abuse. Couples that claim Universal Credit receive their benefits as a joint payment paid into the nominated bank account of one person as the ‘main claimant’. If one partner has sole control over the couple’s finances, they are able to restrict the other partner’s financial freedom and make them critically dependent. The government should remove joint claims so that young women are evaluated and paid independently of their partners.
While this new research constitutes a small sample of women with experiences of youth homelessness, those experiences highlighted are indicative of reports from stakeholders and previous literature. The women interviewed had a variety of different experiences such as motherhood, substance misuse, and domestic violence. The women also had varying beliefs, cultures, and backgrounds. Within this variety of circumstances, there was a commonality around safety and vulnerability.
Many vulnerable young women across the UK are falling through the cracks, and not getting the support they deserve. Steps must be made to ensure their safety and security. This research aims to be a part of that discussion – improving and preventing homelessness experiences for young women plays a key part in ending youth homelessness for good, and Centrepoint keen to encourage others to be part of this dialogue.
Key findings and recommendations
- In England 2020-21, more than 46,000 young women (aged 16-24) presented to their local authority as they were homeless or at risk of homelessness
- There were five times as many young women (aged 16-24) who lost their last settled accommodation due to domestic violence as men in England 2020/21.
- It was found that 1 in 5 young women had experienced sexual assault once or more while they were homeless.
- Several women spoke about how being homeless had affected their self-esteem and wellbeing. This was often due to feelings of loneliness, shame, and trauma.
- There is a lack of female only provision for homeless young people.
- Several interviewees identified their age and gender as having a negative impact on their experiences of accessing income and resources while they were homeless
- Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and local authorities should allocate more funding for specific homelessness provision, including women-only and LGBTQ+ services
- Department for Work and Pensions to remove the requirement for couples to make joint claims for Universal Credit
- Department for Work and Pensions should improve affordability of childcare for vulnerable young women on low incomes or benefits