The human and economic costs of youth homelessness is far too high, we need a plan to tackle it

We are coming up to halfway through 2024, the year this Tory Government promised to end rough sleeping, instead we have just seen statistics released by the Department for Levelling Up that show yet another increase in homelessness.

The figures paint a harsh reality – over 112,000 households and 145,000 children are currently living in temporary accommodation. In London alone there has been a rise in rough sleeping by 33 per cent. We are in a homelessness emergency.

Amidst such an emergency, young people are often overlooked by the system – such as housing options teams, with growing concern that ever greater revenue constraints are being placed on local government, young people and young adults are getting a raw deal from a system already at breaking point.

Whilst tackling the issue of youth homelessness will take time, there are simple things we could be implementing immediately that would make huge difference. Collecting better data on young adults between the ages of 16-24 will not alarm any fiscal hawk at the Treasury. It is good policy and can be achieved very simply by making amendments to the Homelessness Reduction Act.

As it is, currently, we rely on the likes of Centrepoint, the national youth homelessness charity, who through their databank work and Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have estimated that nearly 136,000 young people approached their local council as homeless in 2022-23 – many of whom were not even close to get formally assessed.

The lack of comprehensive data on the number of young adults experiencing homelessness is concerning. It should not be necessary to rely on FOI requests to obtain this information. How can the Government even begin to solve the problem if it does not truly understand the scale of it.

To effectively address youth homelessness, we also need a comprehensive national youth homelessness strategy. Leading homelessness organisations such as Centrepoint, the Big Issue, the YMCA, and the New Horizon Youth Centre, along with 100 others, are calling for this strategy. It would provide an in-depth plan to support the 136,000 young people affected.

In addition to improving data collection, a national strategy could extend priority need to all care leavers up to the age of 25 and exempt them from council tax payments. It could address issues such as taper rates for young people in supported housing, facilitate local youth homelessness strategies in hotspot areas, and expand accommodation programmes to include provisions specifically for young people.

The cost of youth homelessness to the Treasury is staggering, estimated at £8.5 billion per year. On average, each young homeless person costs £27,347. Young people face unique barriers, including reduced benefits, a lack of affordable housing tailored to their needs, and a lack of visibility in society. It is disheartening that many young people who seek help from their local council do not receive the support they desperately need.

A comprehensive national strategy could save anymore young people ever having to face the trauma of homelessness. Behind the statistics and policies are real stories of desperation and untapped potential. Homelessness and youth organisations like the Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool, Mustard Tree in Manchester, and the New Horizon Youth Centre in London are doing incredible work, but they cannot do it alone. It is the responsibility of Parliament and the Government to take an active role in addressing youth homelessness.

The human and economic costs of youth homelessness is far too high. No young person should be left without a safe, stable and secure place to call home. We should be working tirelessly to provide every young person experiencing homelessness with not only hope but a future.

It is a sad indictment of our system that any young person is left homeless, never mind 136,000. If you fail to get angry when contemplating the possible waste of human potential through youth homelessness, I would argue that you’re simply not human. We need a plan for 136k.

Paula Barker MP

Paula Barker is the Labour MP for Liverpool, Wavertree, and was elected in 2019. Paula is the co-chair for the APPG on Ending Homelessness.