Radical societal change needed for youth homelessness

Olli Watkins, a member of the Young Greens Democracy and Accountability Committee, writes about the importance of acknowledging youth homelessness and the Young Greens’ recently passed Youth Homelessness Motion.

Social housing in England
Social housing in England

Image: Bill Harrison / cc-by-sa 2.0

Olli Watkins

One reason I’m so proud to be a Young Green is our commitment to the belief that adequate, safe, and secure housing is a fundamental human right. 

Oli Watkins

Unfortunately, this is a right that many people are lacking. Homelessness is a major issue in the UK, and it’s one that is facing people no matter what stage of life they may be in. Increasingly, young people are being affected. 

Leading youth homelessness charity Centrepoint estimates in 2020-21 around 122,000 people between the ages of 16-24 were homeless or at risk of homelessness. Of these, just 62 per cent have been offered support by their relevant local authority. Of the cases handled by local authorities, just 41 per cent have been handled or prevented successfully. This means, in real terms, that out of 122,000 young people facing or experiencing homelessness, just 31,012 received the support they urgently needed – a truly disgraceful failure by local authorities.

Homelessness is also an issue that disproportionately affects those that are already marginalised in society – people of colour, LGBTIQA+ people, care leavers, refugees, and asylum seekers are all more likely to find themselves in precarious housing situations. The charity AKT estimates that 24 per cent of homeless young people identify as LGBTIQA+. Centrepoint’s research suggests that 26 per cent of care leavers have sofa-surfed and 14 per cent have slept rough. Homelessness places people who are already marginalised in society into even more vulnerable and dangerous positions, with 1 in 6 homeless people engaging in criminal activities in order to gain a place to stay.

That’s a lot of numbers and figures, but what does it really mean? To strip it back to basics, our housing system is broken. It is fundamentally built on the exploitation of the poor, for the benefit of rich landlords, and spinning ever more out of control. As this cost-of-living crisis worsens – or, more accurately, cost-of-capitalism crisis – it is young people and students, who are some of the poorest members of society, who are among the most affected.

Alongside this, wages are falling in real terms, rents are rising, and young people are caught in the crossfire, placed in precarious financial positions that will force them into ever-increasingly fragile housing situations. Charities and organisations such as the aforementioned Centrepoint and AKT are doing vital and commendable work, but they cannot tackle this issue by themselves. This problem can only be tackled with radical societal change.

That's one reason why the Young Greens are proud to be calling for a £15 minimum wage-  eligible to all, regardless of age, because what a person contributes is not dependent on how old they are.

In addition, at the recent Young Greens General Meeting, held this past December in Cardiff, I was delighted to have my motion supporting young people facing homelessness passed. The passing of this important motion reiterates that the Young Greens are committed to removing any barriers to participation that homeless people experience, increasing support for young people experiencing homelessness, opposing ageist discrimination, and increasing access to housing for young people; ultimately working to make youth homelessness history.