Year in Review research reveals ‘enormous struggle’ our most-vulnerable young people have faced

New research by leading youth homelessness charity Centrepoint has set out the ‘enormous struggle’ some of the country’s most vulnerable young people have endured during the pandemic.

The report, A Year Like No Other, looks at youth unemployment, homelessness, poverty and mental health, and assesses the impact of the government’s policy interventions during the pandemic.

Surge in Centrepoint Helpline calls, including from young people forced to sleep rough

The report reveals calls to the Centrepoint Helpline increased by a third (33%) during the pandemic, compared to the previous year and more than doubled some months. Spikes in call volume often followed the introduction of local or national lockdown restrictions, suggesting these measures put more young people at risk of homelessness.

The proportion of callers who were out-of-work increased by 11 percentage points from 46% in 2019/20 to 57% in 2020/21, indicating that some young people found themselves homeless despite substantial interventions from the government, such as the furlough scheme.

Over a quarter of young people disclosed a personal history of being in care, a significant and worrying increase of 8 percentage points on the previous year (19% were care leavers in 2019/20 compared to 27% in 2020/21).

Alongside the statistical breakdown of calls, the report also provides insight from interviews with Helpline workers and others reflecting on twelve months on the frontline. Amongst other findings, workers highlighted the apparent disparities in support available to young people forced to sleep rough, with young people in certain areas unable to access the support these desperately need.

Young people have often struggled to access appropriate levels of support and found it difficult to navigate the system with many face-to-face advice services closed. However, the experience of Helpline staff reveals that – even with more resources made available to councils and charities at the beginning of the pandemic as a result of Everyone In – some young people were still unable to access emergency accommodation.

One young pregnant mother at risk of homelessness, for example, was initially refused help by her council and told there was “nothing they could do for me until I had a written letter from my mum stating that she is kicking me out.”

Centrepoint has highlighted this as an area of concern following increases in the number of young people who call because they have been forced to sleep rough and the historically high number of young people appearing in rough sleeping statistics during the early months of the pandemic. The charity is arguing for emergency accommodation funding to be ring-fenced to ensure young person-specific services are available.

Responding to the research Centrepoint’s Helpline manager Paul Brocklehurst said:

“The pandemic has made worse the enormous struggle young people were already facing to access the emergency support they need when they need it.”

“While government support in terms of the furlough scheme and Everyone In has kept a majority of people in work and off the streets, our research makes clear that many vulnerable young people have slipped through the cracks.

“Our Helpline supports as many young people facing homelessness as we can with signposting and advice but the sheer volume of calls has been relentless and shows no sign of slowing down. The fact is that too many young people facing homelessness are dismissed by councils, who can demand they ‘prove’ their homelessness by sleeping rough or potentially put at further risk in all age accommodation. This shouldn’t be happening under any circumstances, but particularly during a pandemic.

“The drive to get rough sleepers off the streets during the first national lockdown showed what can be achieved when the political will is there to end rough sleeping. That said, even with a properly resourced and well-targeted intervention like that, the number of calls to our Helpline from young people in crisis, increased. If the government is serious about ending rough sleeping and tackling homelessness it needs a long-term plan for investment that includes ring-fenced money for youth-specific accommodation and services.”

A Year Like No Other: Unemployment, poverty and concerns about mental health

A 15% increase in youth unemployment, with young people facing the highest rates of unemployment of all age groups
More than three times as many young people needed urgent support with food, including emergency food packages from Centrepoint’s health team
40% increase in demand for Centrepoint mental health services since the first lockdown with demand outstripping supply.
With soaring youth unemployment and ongoing lockdown restrictions, Centrepoint has seen an increase in demand for the support provided by its in-house mental health and physical health teams across the country.

The potent mix of rising food prices, loss of employment and waiting for benefit payments have left young people reliant on food parcels to survive, despite the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit in April 2020. Centrepoint’s in-house health team have facilitated a 276% increase in young people accessing emergency food support, which includes food parcels and vouchers.

Maintaining mental well-being was a significant challenge for homeless young people even before the pandemic. Over half (54.1%) of young people at Centrepoint were reported to have a mental health need pre-COVID20, and the experience of our in-house health teams suggests that these problems are becoming even more prevalent as the challenges of the pandemic have taken hold.

Centrepoint’s in-house mental health team has remained a vital lifeline of support during the pandemic, since the first lockdown last March they have seen a 40% increase in demand for mental health services. This has meant that, despite the best efforts of the team, waiting times have increased – in some cases from two weeks to an average wait of three months.

Further indications that the pandemic has hit young people hardest is reflected in huge increases in 16-24 year olds claiming benefits. Unemployment has risen across all age groups, but the 15% increase in youth unemployment has been the steepest of all. The pandemic has disproportionately hit the service and hospitality industries in which a higher percentage of young people work.

The huge increase in youth unemployment and gloomy economic outlook are also likely to make young people’s journeys out of homelessness more challenging, as they are forced to compete for a shrinking number of jobs whilst also dealing with the considerable challenges of finding and sustaining accommodation.

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