David Cameron recently launched a new assault on young people with his proposal to cut housing benefit for those aged under 25. His justification was based on the view that many young people choose to stay at home even though they are working and that it is unfair for other young people to claim off the state when they could move back in to the parental home. However, is this really either fair or indeed accurate?
The Prime Minister’s proposal is riddled with far-fetched and quite plainly incorrect assumptions, many of them emanating from his own privileged background.
His proposal ignores dramatic increases in market rents across the country over the last few years. To penalise young people for claiming benefit without actually doing something to lower market rents is grossly unfair, yet millions of pounds in donations to the Conservative Party from property developers over the past year or so means that such action is probably unlikely.
Mr Cameron’s proposal is based on outmoded but typically traditional Tory values of the role of the family in British society. It relies on an assumption that a ‘parental home’ is both available and adequate, despite the fact that even if a room in a family home is available British houses are often notorious for being among the smallest in Europe.
Many young people simply don’t have a parental home to return to. Some will have been abused either physically or sexually, while others will have suffered parental prejudice on the basis of their beliefs or sexuality.
In many parts of the country, young people will also be claiming housing benefit having just left university. Bristol is one such city where students tend to settle after completing their courses, bringing benefits to the city’s economy and culture.
Councillor Gus Hoyt of Bristol’s Green Party is one local politician who has legitimate concerns over the probable effect of Mr Cameron’s proposal, were it to be adopted into law.
“With little hope of immediate employment and now no access to housing benefits they will leave to go back home, maybe never to return,” he says.
“Under 25s need help, too. The younger generation is deliberately being targeted. Housing benefit is a safety net – not a first choice. Taking it away will lead to greater youth homelessness. This is the wrong direction our society should be taking.”
Meanwhile, Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy describes the plan as a “cynical attempt to divert attention from reports of tax avoidance by Conservative supporters”.
“It is also part of a continuing Government narrative, of seeking to demonise those on low incomes and portray them all as feckless scroungers,” she adds. “The Coalition has already imposed drastic welfare cuts, some of which have yet to take effect and will hit people very hard when they do.”
“The Prime Minister needs to understand firstly the impact these will have on people’s lives and, secondly, that many under-25s do not have the option of living with their parents. I would be deeply concerned about how they would be affected and their very limited alternatives.”
Mr Cameron says the cuts will save some £2billion for the public purse, but notwithstanding the £70 billion lost through tax evasion, the proposal is also starkly unrealistic, since only 163,000 young adults are unemployed and claiming housing benefit according to the homeless charity Shelter. Most of those will claim for only six months before finding work.
The stark reality is that most people claiming housing benefit do actually work, most of them in low-paid jobs or faced with escalating market rents.
The Tories know full well that their Lib Dem partners will never countenance such an assault on housing benefit, which is why they will leave this idea until the next election before implementing it, if they do so at all. It is more likely that Cameron’s rhetoric is little more than political point-scoring aimed at keeping the party backbenchers happy. But if he really wants to keep the country behind him, this foolish and ill-considered proposal will have done him no favours at all.