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We need social housing so young people can grow up without homelessness – it just makes sense

It's getting harder for young people to get a social home. The next government must build more social housing to prevent homelessness, writes Centrepoint's Tom Kerridge

social housing for young people

The number of young people getting social homes is falling – and not because of less demand. c

We can take it for granted, getting out the keys, unlocking our front door and relaxing on the sofa after work – this is a moment of brief solace away from the stresses of modern life. But for many of the young people supported by Centrepoint, it is a dream. A key part of our mission is making this dream come true – helping young people into a job and a home, but right now Britain has a clear lack of the latter.

Social housing waiting lists are getting longer, with nearly 1.3 million households waiting for genuinely affordable tenancies in England alone, and while political parties have their own ways of explaining that number, what is clear is Britain’s housing stock is drying up. Right to Buy has seen hundreds of thousands of council-owned properties sold off, without new ones built to replace them, leaving some of society’s most vulnerable people totally stranded. Young people, who are so often unable to afford sky-high private rents and regularly do not have priority for social housing, have been particularly impacted by this acute lack of supply – resulting in many turning to charities like Centrepoint for support.

Research by LG Inform shows that in the last 10 years new social lettings to lead tenants aged 16-24 have dropped by 8% and that is not because demand is falling. Last year, nearly 136,000 young people in the UK faced homelessness, a figure that has been steadily rising year on year – and that doesn’t include those who do not present to their local authorities in need of homelessness support. This disparity between supply and demand suggests that Britain no longer has a wide enough safety net to help everyone in need of homelessness support and a stable home. It is, therefore, often left to charities like Centrepoint to step in when the state does not. Since the start of 2021, the length of time young people stay in our supported accommodation has been steadily increasing and is now at an average of nearly a year. This is, in part, due to long waits for social housing limiting options for those ready to move on and live independently.

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In this general election campaign, it has been positive to hear politicians talking about housing and acknowledging that the country simply needs to build more and Big Issue’s Blueprint for Change outlines how vital it is that housing gets prioritised over the next year. Homelessness charities too are united in calling for the next government to build at least 90,000 social homes every year across the next parliament. At Centrepoint, we also know that nearly half of these new properties will need to be one-bedroom homes so that young people have more opportunities to live in genuinely affordable housing. For almost a decade, more than 45% of households on waiting lists have not been entitled to larger properties. Many of these applicants will be single young people who are hoping to escape homelessness and move on from supported or temporary accommodation – for example 80% of those supported by Centrepoint in the last five years have been single with no children.

Dr Tom Kerridge of youth homelessness charity Centrepoint
Dr Tom Kerridge is policy and research manager at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint. Image: Centrepoint

Policies to end youth homelessness are not just morally right, but also make clear economic sense. Research by Centrepoint has found youth homelessness costs the British economy, £8.5bn a year – that is approximately £27,347 for each homeless young person and equivalent to the average salary of a police officer. This includes benefit payments, costs to the criminal justice system and health services and the huge amount lost to unemployment.

At Centrepoint we are doing all we can to end youth homelessness. Our prevention work is identifying children who could be at risk of having nowhere to live, we provide safe and stable accommodation, and our Independent Living stepping-stone homes help young people into work, with rent set at no higher than a third of their salary. We want the next generation to be the first to grow up in a country where homelessness is negligible, but to achieve that everyone must do their part. Any government committed to building a new generation of truly affordable homes would get us well on the way to realising that ambition.

Dr Tom Kerridge is policy and research manager at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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