Young people 'consigned to the scrapheap'

Nearly 2m young people fear homelessness if they lose their jobs

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Nearly 2m young people fear they will become homeless if they lose their jobs, new research has shown, adding to the growing evidence showing the coronavirus crisis has had a major impact on the UK’s youth.  

Unemployment figures published on Tuesday (October 13) highlighted that young people – many of whom are employed in hard-hit sectors such as hospitality and retail – are bearing the brunt of job losses amid the pandemic.

The ONS has highlighted that an astonishing 1.5m people were unemployed between June and August, with young people under 24 accounting for a huge portion of the unemployed.

Speaking to the BBC Today Programme, ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow said, “Overall employment is down about half a million since the pandemic began and there are particular groups who seem to be most affected, young people in particular.”

He added that about 300,000 of those now unemployed are aged 16-24, accounting for 60 per cent of the overall fall in employment – which he called “really disproportionate”.

Now research from homeless charity Centrepoint has found a third of young people, many of whom live hand to mouth in low-wage work with no savings, said they did not believe they would have a safe place to live if they lost their jobs.

Throughout the pandemic, young people were among the most likely to have lost their jobs – and also the most likely to have been furloughed. Now, the government has refused to extend the furlough scheme and has instead replaced it with a new short-time working scheme called the Jobs Support Scheme.

Under this new scheme that starts on November 1, only those workers who can work a third of their contracted hours will be eligible, and employers must contribute a third of their wages while not in work, while the government also contributes a third and the worker forgoes a third.

The scheme has been criticised for the fact that it requires employers to make a substantial contribution and so doesn’t adequately incentivise businesses to keep workers on shorter hours instead of simply sacking them.

Young people too have little faith in the new Jobs Support Scheme – the research from Centrepoint found that two in five young people who are furloughed under the current scheme do not believe they will be eligible for the new Jobs Support Scheme at all.

What’s more, less than a quarter of young people 24 and under who are currently employed believe that their job is safe. Meanwhile, Centrepoint predicts that two-thirds of young people would need to rely on support services if they lost their main income.

Commenting on the charity’s research, Centrepoint CEO Seyi Obakin told the Independent, “While the uncertainty and disruption of the past six months has impacted everyone in some way, this research clearly indicates the severe effect it has had on young people.

“As we move into the winter months, and as the government furlough scheme winds down, the risk of a dramatic increase in youth homelessness is very real, exacerbated by the existing financial and employment insecurity of young people.”

Emergency accommodation call

Last week, doctors and charities warned that a homelessness crisis was on the cards this winter if the government did not step up and offer more support at a time when both the pandemic and the cold weather threaten rough sleepers.

The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of General Practitioners, alongside organisations such as Crisis, Shelter and St Mungo’s, wrote a letter to government ministers calling for renewed support which was offered in March and April, where the government paid to house 15,000 rough sleepers in self-contained accommodation such as hotels.

As a second wave of the pandemic sweeps the UK and the colder winter months approach, rough sleepers are left with an impossible choice between sleeping out in the cold or accessing crowded shelters where the risk of contracting coronavirus is very high.

Commenting, Crisis CEO John Sparkes said, “Predictions of deaths among people who have nowhere else to go, other than our streets, or sleeping in communal night shelters that are not Covid-secure, must act as a wake-up call to the government. We cannot have hundreds or even thousands of people forced to live in crowded places, where proper social distancing is impossible and the risk of coronavirus transmission is incredibly high.”

Unite Community national co-ordinator Liane Groves agreed.

“An imminent homeless crisis awaits us if this government fails to step up and offer more support immediately as winter approaches – both in terms of self-contained emergency accommodation for those already sleeping rough, as well as beefing up the social security net, which has been decimated after years of austerity,” she said.

 “Young people especially have been consigned to the scrapheap amid this pandemic,” Groves added. “Already more likely to be in low-paid work, young people were suffering well before this crisis and now, when so many of them have lost their jobs and must rely on family and friends who themselves face job losses, it’s not surprising that nearly 2m fear a life on the streets if they lose their main source of income.

 “What we need is welfare reform, particularly to Universal Credit, along with a proper plan to rebuild the economy – one that must provide tailored support to our young people, with properly resourced and meaningful retraining schemes. It’s the only way we’ll give our youth any hope for their future.”

By Hajera Blagg

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