18-21 Year Olds: Tories Ignoring Lived Experience

The Tory plans for cutting the benefit cap and stopping 18-21 year olds claiming housing benefit as well as linking their JSA to ‘community work’ has caused a bit of a stir over the weekend. First, let me say that, as things stand, it’s unlikely that we’ll get a Tory majority to implement this and I seriously doubt a Lib Dem coalition partner would endorse it (then again, you never know with them). However, there are a couple of issues I’d like to highlight.

Whoever has drafted this policy has done that thing of looking at the figures and ignoring lived experience (possibly because it’s not their lived experience). Unlike many people, I don’t actually believe that Tories go out of their way to attack the poor. I think it’s genuinely a case of not understanding them. A few more working-class members, a few more people who’ve had proper jobs, a little more consultation with the public and things would work out a lot better. But that would deprive them of these nifty headlines, wouldn’t it? Now, where was I?

These new rules on 18-21 year olds use the blueprint of a middle-class family who can just about stretch to supporting a child beyond the age of 18 (and want to). I’m lucky, I come from such a family. However, I’m well-acquainted with people who don’t. One girl I was friends with in college had a fractious relationship with the parent she lived with which led to her being kicked out. She first lived with another friend then moved into a housing scheme which, I’m assuming, involved some sort of benefit. What are the safeguards under this new scheme to ensure that people don’t become homeless? Is it going to be an Atos-style assessment? In which case, every young person with a tricky parental relationship is doomed.

The idea of ‘community work’ to earn JSA is another difficult one. Now, I don’t believe in workfare but, when workfare first came up, I pointed out that asking people to do work in their local areas (rather than for a big corporation which could afford to hire staff) was one way of trying to edge us back into our communities. Of course, it bumps into other policies coming the other way – council house tenancy periods are one that, I believe, saps the incentive for engaging with your local area.

Ultimately, these problems don’t have the easy fix of turning off the money tap and seeing what happens. I can predict it well enough – increased youth homelessness which, in turn, hampers their future prospects and so makes society poorer as a whole. And, if real community work is superseded in favour of workfare, then you’re just going to breed more resentment and deprive working people of actual jobs in these companies.

Good headline: bad policy. That usually covers whatever comes from any of the parties.