Support for young people on Universal Credit must not come to an end after the pandemic
The government has an opportunity to give homeless young people the chance to move on by guaranteeing them enough financial support, writes Debbie Abrahams MP. | PA Images
Young workers have been hit hardest by Covid-19. Ministers must continue financial support for vulnerable young people, which can have a real impact on those working towards employment and a home of their own.
To combat the financial pressures Covid-19 has forced upon many families, the government put in place a number of measures through Universal Credit to try to help people make ends meet.
Over the summer I sat on a panel as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit listening to the experiences of young people supported by the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint who are looking for a job and a home.
I heard how measures such as suspending financial sanctions, increasing the Universal Credit Standard Allowance by £20 per week, and increasing Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents have had a positive impact on the lives of millions of people over the last few months.
These were positive measures in these uncertain times. Unfortunately, unlike the economic impact of the pandemic, these improvements to Universal Credit are time limited.
As the Furlough Scheme comes to an end, and the greater restrictions announced by the Prime Minster and first ministers come into force, we are likely to see a second increase in Universal Credit claimants.
I understand what it’s like not being able to rely on your family for somewhere to stay or help with bills
This means ensuring that we have in place a social security system which provides sufficient support to everybody, from the most vulnerable to those who need only a couple of months of support while they look for another job, consider retraining options or even start a business.
I know all too well what’s at stake here. I left home when I was 16 because of family problems. I was lucky that a friend’s family put me up. But I understand what it’s like not being able to rely on your family for somewhere to stay or help with bills. If you cannot work or are in the process of training or looking for employment, Universal Credit is your only source of income.
But despite having the same living costs as claimants over-25, vulnerable young people living without family support are entitled to £67 less Universal Credit each month, which can leave them struggling to afford food, clothing and other essentials.
Young workers have been hit hardest by Covid-19. Compared to other employees, under-25s are two and half times more likely to work in a sector that closed due to Covid-19. For many this means losing their only source of income.
As it looks at how to continue to provide support during the second wave of this pandemic, the government has an opportunity to give homeless young people the chance to move on by guaranteeing them enough financial support not to have to choose between paying rent or and having enough food to eat.
The government has already spent billions of pounds to support people on Universal Credit during the pandemic. By retaining the £20 increase for young people living without family support, ministers could continue to set right a historic wrong and make a real impact on the lives of an estimated 350,000 young people as they work towards employment and a home of their own. They should also extend the uplift to legacy benefits including ESA and JSA.
To their credit, the government has spent money during the pandemic to support some of the most vulnerable. But if we are to ensure a social security system that works for all claimants after the pandemic, that investment can’t come to a full stop on March 31st 2021.
Debbie Abrahams is the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth.