Opinion

Youth homelessness and unemployment are rising – but there's a simple solution

Homelessness not only puts a young person in danger and at risk of exploitation, it also limits their horizons and dulls their ambitions at a time when most of their peers are looking forward to the future

Young people are at high risk of homelessness and exploitation.

Young people experiencing homelessness are at high risk of exploitation. href="https://unsplash.com/photos/II2ulqB-118"> David East/Unsplash

Experiencing homelessness at a young age can have a devastating impact on a young person’s life.

Homelessness not only puts a young person in danger and at risk of exploitation, it also limits their horizons and dulls their ambitions at a time when most of their peers are looking forward to the future.

Having a place to call home is obviously vital, but being able to access and sustain employment is what gives young people the best chance of leaving homelessness behind for good.

We spend close to £3 billion on directly supporting homeless young people, but we don’t place anywhere near the same value on getting them into work. That is costing the exchequer billions in lost tax revenue and missed opportunities.

Things are only getting worse. According to the latest not in education, employment or training (NEET) statistics, 526,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed between May and July this year – that represents a 41 per cent increase on the same period last year.

The cost of this economic inactivity is huge – Centrepoint’s latest research has revealed that society is losing out on £6 billion a year because vulnerable young people lack the support they need to overcome the barriers they face to employment.

Alicia Walker is the Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns at Centrepoint.

This is a costly mistake for the government to make. It entrenches economic inactivity over a longer-term and bumps up bills for already struggling taxpayers. Yet, our research proves that, if the government spent more right now on supporting young people into employment, more money could be pumped back into the economy in the long-term.

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Most of the young people we support don’t choose this. They are desperate to contribute and play a part of society. However, the current system makes doing so incredibly hard, even impossible for some.

In many cases, structural issues like interrupted education, a lack of access to transport, and an inability to afford basics like decent clothing and food are to blame.

By and large employers are keen to get young people into the workforce, but they tell us that they lack the knowledge and support from government to be able to do so. That’s why Centrepoint has developed employer guidance to provide recommendations and case studies for employers seeking to support vulnerable young people into employment.

An exemplar in this space is the Pret Foundation, a Centrepoint Works Employer that runs the fantastic Rising Stars Programme, which has trained and offered jobs to more than 500 people who – due to having a criminal record or no fixed address – would otherwise struggle to break the cycle of homelessness.

The fiscal benefits of sorting this out are clear. When you look at what the exchequer stands to gain through income tax and reduced spending, we estimate the right investment could recoup £8.5 billion for the country – enough to pay the salaries of 300,000 new police officers, or 240,000 new nurses.

When you read figures like this, it begs the question as to why more hasn’t been done to help more vulnerable young people into stable and long-term employment, especially at a time when crucial services are being stretched to their limits.

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Many of the causes of homelessness and long-term economic inactivity are complex, but some of the solutions are simple.

Ensuring it pays to work for young people who are settled in accommodation, and giving employers the tools that they need to hire people who may need support are just some of the practical policy solutions that the government could action at Autumn Statement this coming November.

There’s an obvious cost to all of this, but our research shows the long-term socioeconomic benefits could be immense if the right measures are successfully implemented.

We need decisive action from the government now, otherwise we risk NEET figures continuing to increase every quarter and losing out on the incredible potential a young and thriving workforce can offer. Put simply, we cannot afford not to end youth homelessness – morally or economically.

Alicia Walker is the Head of Policy, Research and Campaigns at Centrepoint.

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