Church backed report tells of children forced into crime and prostitution
by Rita Wall THE number of homeless young people in Britain is spiralling at an alarming rate according to a national report released this week and endorsed by senior Catholic and Anglican churchmen.
Entitled Hard Times, the report, published by the charity, Shelter, p-oints to the growing nubmers of homeless 16 and 17 year olds who are being driven to suicide, prostitution, begging and petty crime as they attempt to survive on the streets of the nation's cities. Last year alone, Shelter, whose patron is Cardinal Hume, estiamtes that 150,000 young people experienced homelessness, and
this figure is continuing to grow.
"There's a direct link between cuts in social security for young people and homelessness," said Helen Kay, Shelter's Young Person's Housing Campaigner. The moon, which provides the background to Shelter's "Give Us A Break" campaign, which is designed to highlight the plight of young homeless, is critical of the government's overhaul of the social security system in 1988 and the consequent fall in benefits for those under 25.
The governments Youth Training Youth Training Scheme is severely condemned in the report. "Many young people cannot get on a YTS scheme, and therefore they cannot get automatic benefit," Ms Kay said. "In areas such as Leeds, Manchester, Coventry and the North East, YTS places are not available. While in Bristol, St Albans and Sunderland the scheme is reported to be in a shambles," she said. Without income, how can young people survive independently or find housing? as Ms Kay.
"We've got a housing set-up which fails to meet the needs of literally thousands of young people and a benefit system which treats them as less deserving that others." she said.
The Shelter campaign has received the backing of Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool and senior Anglican clerics.
Finding cheap rental accommodation for young people is difficult because it is a scarce commodity, agreed Robina Rafferty of the Catholic Housing Aid Society. Supporting the alarming conclusions of the report, Ms Rafferty pointed to shelter the massive cutbacks in local authority house building which are accentuating the young homeless problem. ."The accomodation which is available in the cities is beyond most young people's reach." A Catch 22 situation resulted for vulnerable young people she said. They cannot get a job without an address, and they cannot get an address without a
job. "With deposits and housing bills. these young people are trapped".
Shelter's report accuses the Department of Social Security of giving a low priority to the crisis in allocating loans to needy. "Since one of the criteria for eligibility for a crisis loan is, like with any other credit, the ability to repay, large numbers of young people see their applications for funds refused. They are literally too poor to receive help."
Responding to the mounting crisis, Shelter has set up a telephone service called "Action Line" to gather information from advice organisations, careers workers and others involved with young people.
The evidence collected from this information line points to a high number of young women homeless and at risk. "Pregnant women, as young as 17, are being left with no financial support because employers are refusing to accept them onto youth training schemes" said Alan Booth, co-author of the report. "One young woman had to return her home where she was being sexually abused because of lack of finance for a home of her own" he said.
Young people are being forced onto the streets because of a variety of problems at home, the report states, including family disputes or breakdowns, abuse or violence and poverty. There are also young people who have been in care and are released without adequate hostel places available to house them.
The report proposes that young people should have the same entitlement to housing benefit as older people, and that they should he able to receive cash payments to cover all costs of moving into permanent accommodation including money for rent deposits, advance rent payments, premiums, furniture and essential household items.
The report was launched on Tuesday, and a copy was handed into Downing Si reet by Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Shelter Director Sheila McKechnie and Lord Longford.