Why do young people leave home? The bigger picture behind ‘family breakdown’

Tuesday, 8 May 2018 - 10:50am

In our most recent ‘Young and Homeless’ survey, family breakdown accounted for half (49%) of all youth homelessness. 

young man sitting on a hostel bed

For a young person, moving out of a parent or carer’s home can seem like an individual decision – even to the people involved in it. We often attribute such decisions to how well the individuals get along with one another, what conflicts they have gone through, and their personal ability to reconcile their differences. But what can be harder to identify at the time is how large-scale economic and political factors can place a strain on people’s ability to stay under one roof.

Homeless Link’s research has repeatedly shown that young people, aged 16-to-24, primarily become homeless because parents or caregivers are no longer willing, or able to accommodate them. In our most recent ‘Young and Homeless’ survey, family breakdown accounted for half (49%) of all youth homelessness. However, our group of ‘Youth Voice Advisors’ – young people with lived experience of homelessness – told us that current statistics fail to incorporate many of the complex reasons why young people leave home. This led us to explore how financial hardship, housing and labour market pressures can make it difficult or even impossible for young people to stay with their parents or carers.

Youth unemployment

Our survey showed almost half (44%) of young people accessing homelessness services were not involved in education, employment or training. In our interviews, several young people who were living in a geographically isolated area with few employment opportunities were asked to leave because they were unable to find work. This demonstrates the effect of labour market factors on youth unemployment, which can, in turn, impact young people’s housing options. Unemployment rates for 16-24-year-olds stand at approximately 12% and although this has fallen in recent years, these figures remain higher than the unemployment rate for other working age people.

In addition, those jobs that are available to young people can often be low paid, insecure and present few opportunities for career development. Other research shows that major economic changes have reduced the availability of well-paid, secure employment opportunities for young people, particularly those towards the bottom of the class structure.  These economic changes include: the decline of heavy industry and manufacturing in the UK; a decline in permanent full-time jobs and the growth of part-time, casual or temporary employment; and a decrease in young people moving straight into employment after leaving compulsory education since the 1970s, with more young people being dependent on the family and state for longer periods.

Welfare benefit system

In this context of scarce employment opportunities, many young people turn to the welfare benefits system for an income. Our research found that welfare benefit rules and restrictions often fed into the family tensions and conflicts that could lead to a young person leaving home. Take Child Benefit as an example, which usually stops when a child turns 16 if they are not in full-time education or training: several of the young people we interviewed said the financial difficulties experienced by their families were exacerbated once families stopped receiving Child Benefit. One said:

“If you are living [at home], if your parents are claiming benefits it means you can’t or vice versa. So some parents will kick their kid out because then they can’t claim all their benefits.”

 Another commented:

“My dad was having money difficulties. The thing is, if I was going to finish education, he'd stop getting money for me and then I'd have to contribute to the council tax. If I was on job seeker's allowance and gave him all of my money to pay for all the food, the electric, the gas, he'd still have to pay more council tax than he did before. It just wouldn't work. We just couldn't afford to live there.”

Young people have also seen reductions in their entitlements to welfare benefits and disproportionate use of sanctions. In our survey, administrative changes and delays under Universal Credit were negatively impacting young people’s ability to access and sustain accommodation – including delayed payments, direct payment of housing costs to claimants, monthly payment in arrears, and increased work- and training-related requirements. On the plus side, in March 2018, the Government announced that unemployed 18-21-year-olds would not lose their entitlement to housing costs (as had been initially proposed). Regarding sanctions, research for Crisis found that while 18-24-year-olds make up just over a quarter of the claimant count, they account for almost two-fifths of all sanctions. By increasing financial pressures within households, these reforms can have a knock-on effect on youth homelessness.

This is a new and emerging area of research. Because of this, more can be done to develop our understanding of how political and economic factors affect young people’s ability to live with their parents and caregivers. Only this way can we avoid inadvertently seeing youth homelessness as being caused by the supposed ‘failures’ of those who become homeless and recognise it instead as a collective, society-wide problem in which we are all involved.

Young & Homeless 2018

young and homeless front cover

Our Young & Homeless report 2018 explores the reasons why young people become homeless, the support available to them and areas that need to be improved.