Blog: The impact of welfare changes for single young people
In a guest blog for Shelter Scotland, Janice Blenkinsopp talks about her research into the housing options for the often overlooked demographic of low-income adults aged 25-34 following recent welfare changes and the potential implications for our understanding of what it means to be an adult in modern day Scotland.
Thank you Shelter Scotland for giving me the opportunity to blog about my ongoing doctoral research.
There has been much focus from academics, policy bodies and campaigners on the experiences of housing and social security for the under 25 years age group. For example, there has been research into youth homelessness, hidden homelessness, benefit rates and reductions, their being disproportionately affected by benefit sanctions, and being exposed to unemployment and underemployment. However, little is understood about what changes in the benefits system means for low income members of the older age group of 25-34 years and how this may impact their housing options. Attention has tended to focus on their middle class counterparts who are unable to find well paid and permanent positions following a university degree or unable to afford to purchase a home without the help of parents, grandparents or government subsidy which may have consequences for their later welfare. The focus therefore of this research is on those who are low income, older young adults who are missing from these accounts – focussing specifically on younger adults, aged 25-34 years and their parents, using Edinburgh as a case study.
Of particular concern is the increasing of the age before which young people are treated as being fully adult within the social security legislation since this affects their housing options. Housing Benefit reforms in particular, restrict where low income young adults may live and increase (continued) dependence on parents, and their willingness to support their older children even though they receive no assistance from social security for this purpose. With this in mind, three particular areas of reform are being analysed to gain a deeper understanding of the interconnections between reforms relating to both housing and welfare policy on younger people aged between 25 and 34 years old. The main areas of reform identified for particular analysis are:
- the increases in the non-dependant deduction (NDD) rates from April 2011-14;
- the under occupancy reduction in benefits in the social rented sector from April 2013 (although becoming less relevant in Scotland);
- and the increase in age of those affected by the shared accommodation rate (SAR) applicable in the private rented sector from January 2012 and also being applied to social rented tenancies signed after 1 April 2016, with the entitlement changing from 1 April 2018.
It remains unclear why (other than to reduce the budget deficit) the SAR was extended to 25-34 year olds in 2012. In particular, does it imply that people who are unable to afford their full housing costs should share accommodation or continue living with their parents until they are aged 35? If so, how does wider society actually see people from the age of 25 to 34 years old? I would argue many would concur with David Cameron’s view which recognises that: “a generation of hardworking men and women in their 20s and 30s are waking up each morning in their childhood bedrooms – that should be a wakeup call for us.” At this stage of their life most people are maturing and able to, or would wish to, support a mortgage and perhaps be settling down with partner. It is possible that too much is being read into these changes and the only reason that governments have actioned these policies could relate to nothing other than cost saving by restricting benefit entitlement.
However, if this were the case, why is there such a prescriptive commentary on each change to benefit legislation affecting these age groups? Of course none of this matters if you are able to find a job that fully supports rent payments or mortgage costs, or are viewed as being part of the group of young people who are ‘deserving’ of government subsidy to allow them to achieve that goal. In contrast, it matters very much to the growing numbers of young people (including those in work) who have become reliant on Housing Benefit as the private rented sector has grown.
So is it just poorer young people (both waged and unwaged) who are ‘undeserving’ of government assistance to help fulfil to their transition to adulthood through housing? With the ONS finding that the average age of motherhood increased year on year since the mid-1970s, to the age of 30 years for the first child by 2013, this would mean that many parents affected by this policy would be in their mid-60s before their children moved away and started their own lives. An assumption can be made that these parents and guardians remain somewhat financially responsible for their ‘elderly children’ without recourse to social security or social assistance for them. In fact as I highlight in the research – they are often penalised for having a non-dependant living with them if they themselves are claiming benefits.
It is these households that are of the most interest in this research; where the financial push factors have been strong for young adults to leave home and where there have been no incentives to support extended living at home. How do these adults who cannot stay at home ‘choose’ where to live? How do they then gain and sustain a place to live if they are affected by SAR?
Following Key Informant interviews I am now interviewing younger adults aged 25-34 and their parents to:
- Identify the impact of housing policy and social security legislation change on this group of younger adults and their parents.
- Gain an understanding of younger adults’ and their parents’ perceptions of and responses to these changes.
- Determine the implications for the transition to adulthood for this group.
If you would like more information on this research and to find out likely publication dates please feel free to contact me at I-SPHERE, Heriot-Watt University on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on twitter or through my page on the Herriot Watt University website.