Last week 100 young people from across England who form the ‘Youth Homeless Parliament’ (YHP) assembled at Parliament to address Minister for Local Government Marcus Jones MP on proposed government policies which they believe will directly impact on young people and youth homelessness.
The Youth Homeless Parliament (YHP), facilitated by charity St Basils, is made up of 100 young people aged 16-25 from across England who have experienced homelessness and are currently receiving support from organisations who work with homeless young people across the country including St Basils, Centrepoint, Crisis, Depaul UK, The Foyer Federation, St Mungo’s and YMCA.
In preparation for the event, the YHP membership had consulted and considered their views on three key government policy areas of housing, employment opportunities and welfare support. Their views and recommendations are intended to improve policy in action, in the light of their lived experience. Each recommendation was followed by an account from a young person of their particular experience in this area.
The YHP members supported the policy intention in the proposed ‘The Youth Obligation’ and ‘Help to Buy’ as well as the proposed Rogue Landlord Database, with some reservations. However the YHP membership were unanimous in their disagreement with government proposals to freeze the Local Housing Allowance and remove entitlement to Housing Benefit for young people aged 18-21.
84% of the YHP membership were broadly in favour of 'The Youth Obligation’, the requirement for young people who have been on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for over 6 months to undertake training, apprenticeships or a work placement as YHP young people believe it should help young people attain the skills, routine, experience and confidence needed to assist them into paid employment. However they warned that vulnerable young people, perhaps staying in different places during the course of an Apprenticeship, will need opportunities tailored to their situation that take into account accessibility and location. They also emphasised how important they feel it is that young people have access to ‘taster sessions’, encouragement from mentors and that preparation courses that will build confidence, knowledge and self-esteem are offered as soon as young people start to receive JSA.
Sharing his lived experience, YHP member Harry who is supported by Depaul in London said: “The positives of an Apprenticeship is that it was a full time position with training, qualifications and paid work experience… 3 out of 4 core aspects are covered in Life on an Apprenticeship but the missing aspect is the availability of suitable accommodation at Housing Benefit or welfare rates….I found it hard to survive during this period as all my money was going on travelling. I was on a minimum apprenticeship wage of £3.30ph at the time.”
Whilst welcoming the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, YHP members felt it is not aimed at young people like them on low incomes, but more affluent people. They also welcome new measures to tackle rogue landlords in the Private Rental Sector and suggest rather than banning orders, that introducing fines will encourage Landlords to improve standards, however YHP young people are concerned they won’t have access to the Private Rented Sector due to the need for deposits and Local Housing Allowance caps.
100% of the YHP members disagreed with freezing Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates and have major concerns as to how this will impact on homeless young people now and in the future. 100% of YHP members also disagreed with removing automatic entitlement to Housing Benefit for young people aged 18-21. YHP Spokesperson Sean Marsay from the National Youth Reference Group (NYRG) presented the recommendation that ‘Young people from the YHP insist that exemptions must include vulnerable young people supported by homeless charities, like us’. One young man shared his lived experience stating he was sofa surfing “and in the beds of strangers just to stay ‘alive’”. Another young woman named Kirston, supported by St Mungo’s Broadway shared her story saying: “I became homeless when I was 16 years old. I had a short period of sleeping on the streets and sofa surfing… at the time of going into a hostel my self-esteem was very low but the staff at the hostel supported me to build myself up. I had to leave home due to the family arguments and since I left I have managed to rebuild things with my mum but returning home is still not an option. I am currently doing a college course….not being able to claim housing benefit would force me to return home and would place a strain on family relationships again. I would be very anxious about things going wrong and being homeless again”.
Finally YHP young people were keen to share their views of the event, the vast majority agreeing that it provided a unique opportunity to have their thoughts and experiences heard at the heart of government.
Holi Parchment who is an NYRG member who is supported by St Basils said:
“‘At 5:30am whilst most of you are warm and safe in your bed, whilst sweet dreams caress your slumbering form, elsewhere, potentially even on your neighbouring streets, young homeless people are waking up; being violently awoken; forced to search for a new place to reside…. It was 5:30am. The date was 15th March 2016. A date that will resonate with me throughout my life. 100 young people travelled from near and far in order to be involved in a prestigious union of voices. Marcus Jones, MP, I thank you for breaking through any preconception I have harboured towards politicians. We were really listened to, were respected; were treated as equals; an utterly refreshing experience, which proved absolutely essential in the fight against youth homelessness. I truly hope that we have made you think differently and that action will result. A continuous collaboration of minds is required in order to ensure that when we sleep safely in bed at night, we do it collectively as a nation”