Comment: Spending squeeze will impact the most vulnerable

Pat Thompson is assistant director of communications at Catch22
Pat Thompson is assistant director of communications at Catch22

At Catch22 we know that the young people we work with want to be independent adults with a job, a home and a stable future. Now, those who are already most likely to struggle - the poorest, those leaving care and those from chaotic backgrounds - face having their help cut off when they need it the most. We have already seen programmes like the Future Jobs Fund that provide work opportunities for young people withdrawn.

By Pat Thompson

Surely, now is the time to focus on what can be done to make sure that young people are not caught up in a damaging double-spiral of lack of opportunities and diminishing social support.

Becoming a fully independent adult does not happen overnight and young people need help as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. The point at which that actually occurs is an important factor in how the Government supports young people. Rules about entitlement to benefits such as income support, housing benefit and job seekers allowance may variously change at 16, 18, 22 or 25. You can smoke and join the army at 16 but not vote, nor can you marry without the consent of your parents. At seventeen you can leave home whenever you choose but you will have to wait until you're 18 to own a house.

What these examples show is that, while the government views adulthood occurring at a fixed age it demonstrates a more confused and arbitrary approach to determining policies to support the transition to adulthood. Our own research shows that the vast majority of people felt they became independent adults sometime between 16 and 24. But, just as the government awards adult privileges in chunks, it also takes away young people's support at arbitrary ages. Becoming a fully independent adult is a personal and changeable process, some people will take longer and some will need more support than others making this transition.

Very few parents expect their children to manage on their own at an arbitrary date. Most will support them into their early twenties and beyond. A quarter of 18 to 24 year olds we asked said that they did not feel ready to be fully independent without support. A third told us they regularly ask their parents for help. Unfortunately, those who are most likely to struggle to make the transition to adulthood - the poorest, those leaving care and those from chaotic backgrounds - are having their help from the State cut off just when they need it the most.

Structuring services around artificial cut-off points based around age is unhelpful, as is only focussing on a single problem, leaving others unaddressed and burdening young people with negative labels. This can leave vulnerable young people having to deal with unsuitable and uncoordinated adult services which do not cater for their specific needs or the life stage they are at.

Catch22 is calling on the Government to formally recognise young adulthood, from 16 to 25, as a specific life stage and, alongside local government, ensure services are better coordinated, better suited and more relevant to young people struggling to make the transition to adulthood. We want to see a move away from silo funding focused solely on targets such as NEETs, homelessness and drug treatment. Critical to all of this is leadership so that budgets can be pooled across departments and local authorities.

The Government has an enormous opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of these young people.

Robert Halfon MP, who has a Catch22 project in his constituency, has tabled an EDM supporting the Catch22 Ready or Not campaign. 9 MPs from different political parties have signed thus far.

Catch22 is now launching a postcard campaign by young people asking all MPs to sign EDM 731: Support for Young People.

Pat Thompson is assistant director of communications at Catch22, a charity working to support young people in difficult situations.

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