Severe hardship of the benefit system

24th February 1995 at 00:00
Education is central to the fight against deprivation, according to two new studies. Diane Spencer and Susan Young report. Teenagers are resorting to begging and stealing because they are not receiving benefits they are entitled to, according to a report published this week, writes Diane Spencer.

The report by the Coalition on Young People and Social Security highlights the plight of thousands of 16 to 18-year-old school-leavers who have failed to get a job or a training place yet receive no benefit under the Government's scheme for severe hardship payments.

The coalition, a co-ordinating body of more than 30 organisations including Youthaid, the Children's Society and the Child Poverty Action Group, looked at the take-up of severe hardship payments, the short-term benefit safety net for 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in work, education or training.

It found that 85 per cent of staff had worked with teenagers who did not know about the discretionary payments under Income Support regulations for 16 and 17-year-olds who are unemployed, seeking training and not in full-time education. Those living at home can get Pounds 27.50, others Pounds 36. 15 a week, paid fortnightly for eight weeks, then they have to re-apply.

Young people who want to make a claim have to register for training with the local careers service, take proof of registration to the Employment Service and then go to the Benefits Agency office for interview.

More than 60 per cent of claimants said the three-stop procedure was difficult or impossible to complete in one day. One claimant had to make an 80-mile round trip. Another said: "It's called severe hardship because it's severely hard to get hold of."

Benefits staff in various parts of the country interpret procedures differently. In some areas, under-18s are not allowed to claim. The youth coalition says a universal right to benefit would give young people with a fairer start in life. The Benefits Agency should ensure that information on benefits is widely available and that staff are properly trained, says the report.

Last October there were 8,739 claims, of which 7,149 (81.8 per cent) were successful.

The youth coalition is campaigning for the Government to guarantee 16 to 18-year-olds high quality training by offering them contracts with employers, which would lead to a minimum of a level 2 National Vocational Qualification.

It also wants training programmes improved and the abolition of the rule which prevents unemployed young people studying for more than 21 hours while receiving benefits. The Government, however, is currently considering tightening this rule.

* A report published last week by the Trades Union Congress claims that 17 to 24 year-olds' position in the labour market has worsened, despite a decrease in the number of young people leaving school. Unemployment among under-20s was 19.2 per cent last autumn. The rate for 20 to 24-year-olds was 14.6 per cent while the national average for all ages was 8.9 per cent.

Six Years Severe Hardship: an update: free from Amanda Allard, COYPSS, Edward Rudolf House, Margery Street, London WC1X OJL. Young people in the labour market in 1995, free from the TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS.

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