More Priority Needed: Youth Homelessness and Legislative Change

By: Isobel Anderson  Published: December 2005


In the UK today, young people face a disproportionate risk of homelessness compared to their elders. Young homeless people who have grown up in households with low incomes and family difficulties face even greater disadvantage. Some young homeless people face extremely difficult economic and social circumstances, including, for example, a history of abuse; problems with alcohol and drugs; having a criminal record; health problems; severe poverty and chaotic lifestyles.

The homelessness legislation introduced in England and Scotland in 1977 excluded many young people without children from the categories prioritised for housing, unless they were deemed to be 'vulnerable' and in priority need. Young people also face disadvantage in the social security system, as their entitlement to benefit is lower than for older age groups. Similarly, if working, they are likely to be on relatively low incomes at the start of their careers.

Consequently, young people may find it very difficult to find a pathway out of homelessness without some assistance with housing and support from the state or its voluntary sector partners. Despite efforts to tackle youth homelessness since the 1990s, the problem has persisted into the 21st century.

Scottish housing law and policy were devolved to the new Scottish Parliament in 1999. Subsequently, major reviews of homelessness policy and practice were undertaken in Scotland and England, resulting in greater legislative differences between the two countries.

Some of the changes born of this review process had the potential to improve young homeless people's access to housing and support services, namely:

  • adding 16 to 17 year olds to the priority need categories;
  • expanding the possible reasons for vulnerability
  • a more strategic, preventative approach to homelessness (rather than a reliance on crisis intervention).

These key changes are the main focus for this research. Their effectiveness, however, depends on successful implementation by local authorities and their partners.

Implementation of legislative change is therefore an important focus of this study.


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