The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has published a report, which has found that support for care leavers must be improved and the benefits process simplified to ensure that vulnerable care leavers do not become homeless or share accommodation with dangerous adults.
20% of children leaving care will end up homeless, according to the report. Their findings are supported by a 2015 report from the National Audit Office (NAO), which found that in 2010, 25% of homeless people had been in care at some point in their lives.
The SSAC report recommended that to help care leavers find suitable accommodation, the cut-off point for care leavers being exempt from the Shared Accommodation Rate and the Bedroom Tax should be raised to 25-years-old.
The effect of the notorious Bedroom Tax (otherwise known as the under-occupation charge) is the most controversial issue. If claimants are not found to be using all the available rooms in their social housing, there are housing benefit penalties. These penalties are criticised for having a disproportionate effect on vulnerable and disabled people, who often have unique requirements when it comes to housing. More information on the Bedroom Tax can be found here through the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). Likewise, further information on the Shared Accommodation Rate for Under-35s is provided by Shelter England here.
The recommendations are essential to helping care leavers access or keep their homes. The government are assessing whether to raise the age-limit for exemptions as part of their Keep On Caring plan, but the SSAC insist that changes must be made quicker.
Furthermore, Homeless Link has also published a report exploring the relationship between welfare reforms and homelessness. It concluded that through making access to housing more difficult for young people, welfare reforms are contributing to homelessness for those aged 16 to 24. Their findings indicate that 44% of young people receiving support from homelessness accommodation organisations are not in education or training. Additionally, 35% have mental health issues, 41% lack significant independent living skills and 28% of those accessing support are just 16 to 17 years-old.
There is still a significant gap between the educational achievements of care leavers and their peers. In 2014, 41% of 19-year-old care leavers were not in full-time education, employment or training (NEET), compared with 15% of their peers—the highest proportion since 2001-02. Educational failings are also a prominent contributing factor to the social issues affecting the prospects and outcomes of care leavers. In addition to homelessness, this also contributes to higher incarceration rates and teenage pregnancies among care leavers.
Homeless Link’s report indicates that there are inadequate prevention tools for preventing youth homelessness. It recommends that supported through investment, mainstream services need to intervene sooner to support at-risk children and families. Like the SSAC’s report, the research also suggests that accommodation should be made easier to access. 66% of respondents reported that women-only accommodation was difficult to access and 58% said that emergency accommodation was hard to secure.
If you are aged 18-20 and have spent at least 24 hours in care arranged by social services, including foster care, when you were 16 to 17-years-old, the council should prioritise your need for housing. However, in practice, a lot of people are being turned away from services if they are considered too high-risk or their needs are too high.
This has a disproportionate effect on care leavers who often suffer from mental health or behavioural issues, resulting from abusive or neglected upbringings. It is inexcusable that the most vulnerable people in our society are denied access to the most essential of services. It awaits to be seen if the government’s Homeless Reduction Bill delivers on its promise to place new legal duties on English councils to ensure access to meaningful help for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness.