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Raise benefits for young people in supported living, YMCA urges

18 October 2022


The main entrance to Central YMCA in Bloomsbury, London, in 2019

The main entrance to Central YMCA in Bloomsbury, London, in 2019

THE YMCA has added its voice to pressure on the Government to increase benefits in line with inflation, as the cost-of-living crisis deepens amid continued economic uncertainty in the UK.

In its report, Inside the Cost-of-Living Crisis: The experiences of young people living at YMCA, published on Tuesday, the supported-housing charity also calls for an increase in local-authority grants to meet need in communities (for example, for food- or winter-clothes vouchers).

It recommends that the Government amend the £400 energy rebate to include people in supported living, and more generally address the “systematic issues” of moving on from supported accommodation and finding employment.

The report is based on eight workshops with 43 young people, aged 18 to 30, including six known teenage parents. All participants were in receipt of Universal Credit. Most (40) were not in education, training, or employment.

Food was the first expenditure to be sacrificed when money was tight, the research found. Most participants reported regularly skipping meals, relying on cheap “unhealthy” food, or turning to foodbanks. One participant, a 23-year-old, said: “Most people here live on one meal a day. If they’re lucky.” Another, aged 30, said: “My focus has been on paying bills.”

Other basics such as a winter coat, school uniforms, or extras, such as haircuts, were no longer affordable. A reduced incentive to work and move on from supported housing was also high among participants, the report says. These factors had a spiralling effect on their mental health, and not all participants had friends or family to support them. One said: “I’ve got nowhere to turn.”

The war in Ukraine, continuing effects of Covid-19, the energy price-cap rise, Brexit, and repercussions of the mini-Budget (News, 14 October, 30 September) are listed in the report as crucial factors in the crisis. These had variously increased the cost of gas and electricity by 95 and 54 per cent respectively, between April 2021 and 2022; pushed 1.3 million people, including 500,000 children, into absolute poverty; had increased foodbank use by 22 per cent; and had inflated rents.

“Mandatory measures in place mean that young people are entitled to less financial assistance in welfare support and do not qualify for the same level of minimum wage,” the report explains. “This is alongside assumptions that many of those under 25 either live at home or can rely on family support. This is not the case for some of society’s most vulnerable people.”

Under-25s who are single claimants of welfare benefits receive an income about 20 per cent lower than those aged 25 and above, the report says. “The uprating enacted in April 2022 actually reflects a real-term cut when taking into consideration today’s inflation rate.” (Prices have risen by almost ten per cent compared to a year ago.) 

People were spending less money in the retail industry in which young people were typically employed, putting jobs at risk, and the National Living Wage was applicable only to people over-23s. Young people were also more likely to rent. As rent, bills, and food prices increase, people were at risk of becoming “trapped in the system”.

The chief executive of YMCA England & Wales, Denise Hatton, said: “Even before the cost-of-living crisis hit, young people in supported housing found themselves disproportionately affected by financial strain and limited job prospects. Now they face having to decide between eating and staying warm . . . and fighting damaging stereotypes when trying to secure work.

“Not only are these pressures significantly impacting the health, wellbeing, and opportunities of young people in supported housing, the lack of support from Government risks leaving them more desperate and disillusioned than ever.”

Children’s charities across the UK have also implored the Government to increase benefits in line with inflation for the sake of the 200,000 children on the brink of poverty. On Tuesday, in an open letter to the then Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, who had been sacked by Friday, the leaders of 27 charities, including the Children’s Society, warned that “hard-working families” were facing an average monthly loss of £1061 if benefits were not increased in line with inflation.

“We hear from our frontline professionals that many simply will not cope — and we know that it is children that will pay the price. Ordinary families frankly need more support not less.”

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