The question of how young people can feel at home in their local communities and have a positive role to play in society seems ever more urgent at a time when young people are the easy target for Coalition cuts and dangerous policy experiments.
In his welfare speech a few weeks ago we heard David Cameron proposing that the best way to cut the benefits bill even further would be to stop young people under the age of 25 claiming Housing Benefit and suggesting that they should be sent home to live with their parents. Working at the YMCA, I have already heard worried and vulnerable young people say that they would be homeless without this support; moving back home just simply isn’t an option for most young people who receive Housing Benefit. Mr. Cameron, we don’t all have a family property portfolio to fall back on; young people today have very limited options when it comes to finding a place to live in our twenties.
The housing debate was brought to the fore last month when the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a piece of research highlighting the housing prospects for young people between now and 2020. Unsurprisingly, there will be a sharp increase in the number of young people living in private rented accommodation, projected to rise by 1.5 million young renters compared to 2008.This is a worry due to the rapidly increasing rental levels, particularly in urban areas where demand for housing is always high. Private rented accommodation can often be of poor quality, especially at the lower end of the income spectrum.
How do we solve the housing crisis for young people? Is the stark contrast in living standards between older and younger generations causing tension in our communities? How do we prevent young families living in poor quality, over-crowded accommodation? Does the answer lie in Continental approaches to renting, whereby tenancies are long-term and rental levels remain stable? Is the aspiration for everybody to own their own home sustainable in the long-term? There is no single, easy answer to these questions, but young people are becoming increasingly marginalised in their own communities by inadequate housing policy. Tory propaganda about young benefit scroungers only serves to compound the problem.
The Commission on Better, Stronger, Closer Communities will be looking at several key themes and in addition to the question of affordable, good quality housing we will be examining:
- The negative portrayal of young people in the media
- How we can utilise technology and online networks for communities of the future
- How we can overcome the increasing tensions in our communities between the young and older generations, the rich and poor and those of different social classes.
As our local services are being cut and closed across the country, communities need to look at new ways to support young people and help them play their full part and achieve their full potential in society. Whilst the media reinforces the view that communities are breaking down, grassroots activism led by young people has never been stronger. The Commission on Better, Closer, Stronger communities will examine how we can harness this activism and sense of purpose to help rebuild our communities so that they can offer all citizens, including young people, the chance to play an active and positive role within them.
If you’ve got strong views on these issues and you’re interested in getting involved, we will be hosting several policy events over the coming months, so keep an eye out on the blog and website, or alternatively follow me on Twitter: @MaryHillLondon for updates.
Mary Hill is a Young Fabians member