Amongst the coverage of the ongoing bad weather and flooding, this week’s hot topic has been housing. The Social Market Foundation held an event to explore the link between housing and poverty. New findings released by the National Housing Federation revealed that two thirds of those affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ were struggling to keep up with rent payments as a result.
Meanwhile the Work and Pensions Committee were questioning Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud about the impact of the so called ‘bedroom tax’ and other benefits changes. Once again the Minister refused to rule out the possibility of taking away housing benefit from the under25s. Worryingly, this policy has been mooted time and again, most recently by the Prime Minister in his last speech to the Conservative party conference and echoed by the Chancellor in January whilst the position of the Labour opposition remains unclear.
The proposed changes to housing benefit for under 25s have attracted much controversy and debate, but the most interesting comments came this week from 23 year old Poppy Noor. She became homeless at 16, when circumstances meant that it was dangerous for her to stay at home. However, with the support of housing benefit she was able to continue in education and get a university place at Cambridge. Poppy recognises the important role that vital support played in her story. She believes that if housing benefit is denied to other young people they will “have to choose between an education and a roof over their heads.”
Our report, the Real Story, showed that Poppy’s experience at 16 is not uncommon. According to our poll, almost 20% of young women in our poll said they had been forced to move out of home. The instability this causes can lead to them dropping out of school with few qualifications and getting trapped in a cycle of low paid work and benefits. Without housing benefit, it is even less likely they would be able to stay in education, training or even sustain a job. For many young women these early experiences will have long term consequences, preventing them from ever breaking free of poverty or low pay.
Poppy’s story shows that it doesn’t have to be like this. Housing benefit can provide crucial opportunities to continue education so that young women gain the skills and qualifications that will help them break this cycle. What they need is help to climb up the ladder, not for the ladder to be pulled away.