The prime minister, David Cameron, has set out plans to scrap housing benefit for 380,000 young people under 25, which could save up to £1.8bn a year on the welfare bill.
In a speech today he said working age welfare should principally be for people with no other means of support who have “fallen on hard times”, and that doesn’t neccesarily include under-25’s being subsidised to live independently when they could move back into the family home.
He added that the state currently spends almost £2billion a year on housing benefit for under-25s, and there are currently 210,000 people aged 16-24 who are social housing tenants, and whilst some of these young people will genuinely have nowhere else to live, many will.
Cameron said he wanted more family responsibility for welfare, such as is the case in the Netherlands where the welfare system doesn’t provide for under-21s as a default – and where it does, it expects their family to contribute if they can.
He concluded that there was a moral underpinning to his approach to welfare reform, and that it wasn’t just about “getting the books in order”. David Cameron said:
“Raising big questions on welfare, as I have today – it might not win the government support. Frankly a lot of it might rub people up the wrong way. But as I’ve argued, the reform of welfare isn’t some technocratic issue. It’s not about high-level accounting to get the books in order. It’s about the kind of country we want to be – who we back, who we reward, what we expect of people, the kind of signals we send to the next generation”.
Reaction to the housing benefit proposals have been strong, with Liam Byrne, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary saying:
“Welfare spending is going up under this government because too many people are out of work, but at the last budget the chancellor’s priority was not help to get people into work but a tax cut for millionaires.”
The homelessness charity Crisis describes the proposals as “counter-productive, ill-considered and irresponsible”. They say that is is simply not an option for some young people to return to violent or otherwise difficult homes.
Other ideas being considered by the prime minister include stopping the £70-a-week benefit payments for unemployed people deemed not to be trying hard enough to find work and forcing claimants to undertake community work after two years on the dole.