Britain’s queer youth are under attack.
The Tories would have us believe that we are in a new age of freedom and safety, and that the fight is over. Same-sex marriage has been held up as the holy grail of LGB equality. But the truth is, they are deliberately and knowingly forcing queer young people into destitution, homelessness, and in too many cases, to self harm and suicide.
On Wednesday, the government confirmed their plan to cut housing benefit for 18-21 year olds. Centrepoint youth homelessness charity estimates around 20,000 young people will be affected. These are young people who are already being hit hard by low wages, high rents and, thanks to another Tory scheme, will soon lose their access to Jobseekers Allowance (to be replaced by a workfare programme which will force young people to work for £1.91 per hour).
These young people will join the existing 80,000 who find themselves homeless each year, of which around one-quarter are LGBT.
The government justify their policy by claiming it is giving young people the push they need to make a good start in life. Cameron says this is what is needed to “abolish long-term youth unemployment“.
So, you’re 20. You’re working 30 hours per week on the £5.13 minimum wage in Brighton, earning £666.90 per month. You pay the average rent for a room in a three bedroom house, £512.30. You get the bus to work, but can’t afford to fork out for a monthly pass so pay the day saver rate of £4.20 per day. That leaves £70.57 per month for EVERYTHING ELSE. That’s £2.27 per day, to cover all bills, food, toiletries, clothing, haircuts… Not much chance of socialising, as it would blow nearly two day’s budget to buy just one pint.
It’s pretty clear that, without a living wage and living rent, or adequate state support, work is not working as a way for young people to get going in life.
At the moment though, our Brighton 20-year-old is having her income topped up by a paltry £3.42 per day in housing benefit. Hardly enough, and clearly she is still in absolute poverty, unable to turn the heating on, and relying on a food bank. But, if she were to lose her job, or have her hours reduced, the housing benefit would go up a bit, and maybe, just maybe, she’d manage to cover a few week’s rent while she found more work. It is this safety net (albeit very weak and full of holes) that Cameron now plans to withdraw.
The Tories are making it completely impossible for young people to survive independently of their parents. They are carrying on as if they believe that all 18-21s have large, warm homes with loving welcoming parents to return to if times are tough. The thing is, they know that isn’t true.
Centrepoint have pointed out that there are all sorts of reasons why young people can’t return to their family home. One of those reasons is that they are queer, and no longer welcome with their parents.
A study by the Albert Kennedy Trust found that 69% of homeless LGBT young people have experienced abuse within their family. 77% say that being LGBT was the reason for their rejection from their parental home.
Our Brighton 20-year-old is gay. She has no family safety net. And the government is about to withdraw her housing benefit. The chance of her managing to keep paying her rent have just gone from low to zero. She’ll be homeless by the end of the year.
Homelessness and isolation are already killing young queer people.
52% of young LGBT people report self-harm either now or in the past, and 44% of young LGBT people have considered suicide. For trans young people, the situation is even worse. Nearly half of trans young people have actually made a suicide attempt.The Royal College of Nursing guidelines for LGB suicide prevention and trans suicide prevention highlight homelessness and lack of social support as key factors increasing the likelihood of suicide attempts.
So, queer young people are dying. And homelessness is one of the things that is killing them. And the government knows this. And far from trying to help, it is doing everything it can to make the situation worse.
This is really happening. This is how life is for many young LGBT people right now. Journalist and campaigner Sarah Schulman calls on queer adults to act in loco-parentus for queer young people. They are under brutal attack. If we don’t fight for them, who will?
Schulman, S (1994) “I was a lesbian child” in My American History: Lesbian and gay life during the Reagan / Bush years New York, Routledge↩