End financial discrimination against young people

// 1 January 2010

2009: the year of the Equality Bill. While readers probably have aspects of the Bill they don’t like, I’m sure most see it as a step forward.

However, one disappointment has been the Bill’s exceptions for age discrimination. Specifically, the National Minimum Wage isn’t affected. Nor, as far as I can see, will the Bill change the unequal provision of state benefits, like Jobseeker’s Allowance, housing benefit and tax credits.

The two arguments I’ve heard in favour of varied wage and benefit rates – excluding ‘nobody votes for raising benefits during a recession’ – are:

– it’s intended to encourage young people into higher education

– young people need less money because they’re supported by their parents.

First, the education angle: as many students and graduates will know, if you have a part-time job at university you’re only entitled to £4.83 per hour until you’re 21. If you’re from a low-income family, this is one more reason university might seem too expensive.

What we’re told is that with a degree, you needn’t rely on benefits or the national minimum wage. But there’s a recession on. I know graduates on JSA, and I bet you do too.

The ‘parental support’ argument, meanwhile, applies disproportionately to better-off families. Benefit rates don’t change until you’re twenty-five. I’m a graduate, and many of my friends are graduates, so I know many people who are way past 25 and still living at home. But none of their parents are on benefits or low incomes.

As soon as a child turns 16 or leaves sixth-form, their parents lose child benefit and child tax credits; if they’re receiving housing benefit and/or council tax benefit, that goes down. Unless this child is able to contribute to the household income from their £50.95 per week JSA, or from their wage, which could be as low as £3.57 an hour, then they’re under pressure to move out.

Which brings me to the way this affects women (you wondered when I’d get to it). Imagine you’re a teenage girl, and your parent(s) is/are on benefits or low incomes. (I’m aware that both of these things will apply to some readers, so please forgive me if I generalise or stereotype – I have based this on a composite of real people, but I know there will be many women whose experience it excludes.) Maybe your parent(s) has/have their own financial problems. You’d all find it easier if you moved out. Where do you go?

Your family’s experience of debt may put you off university. You’re low priority for council housing. If you rent privately, the maximum housing benefit you can receive a week is £65 (this varies nationally, but it’s £65 a week in Salford). As many young people complain to me at work every week, that won’t cover your rent anywhere, unless you house-share – and house-sharing isn’t something you’d necessarily consider unless you’d already been to university. Who would you share with?

You could get a job. Maybe. If your parents are on benefits then there are a whole separate blog-post’s worth of barriers to employment; and you might still earn less than four quid an hour, with no tax credits.

There is a way that all of these rules won’t apply to you, and I’m sure a lot of readers have spotted it. Depending on your circumstances…you could have a baby. You’d move up the council housing list; you’d get more housing benefit; and you’d get tax credits.

I’m pretty nervous about putting the words ‘baby’ and ‘council housing’ close together. Please don’t misunderstand: the reason families get more support is that they need it. I’d never suggest we withdraw any that support. There should be more.

I’m certainly not suggesting that young women get pregnant in order to get housing and benefits. Every week I meet a lot of young people with children, and I’d take a lot of persuading that any of them did it for the money.

But faced with a system that disadvantages young men and women alike, having a baby is one option some women have. (And men too, I know – but it’s different, and I could do a whole separate post about why.) I think they should have more options. And I think, incidentally, that it would take a lot of pressure off social housing if they did. But that’s another post right there.

Comments From You

earwicga // Posted 1 January 2010 at 10:46 pm

It’s great to see your first F-Word post Grace, and it’s a good one! Young adults are treated very badly in our society.

I was under the impression that the lower rates of benefits also applied to young people with children.

And I agree with you, the link between council housing and having children is tenous indeed – bed and breakfast and housing benefit which only covers the worst type of housing available to rent hit the mark more succintly. There simply isn’t enough council housing to be able to support the stereotype.

Elmo // Posted 2 January 2010 at 11:02 am

I genuinely didn’t know that the minimum wage was instated until 21-I thought it was 18! I think young people are also treated quite poorly as employees. Chain stores in particular seem to regard us as throwaway box stackers-if we arnt happy, there’s always thousands of others ready to take our place. But maybe thats just me. Anyway, thanks for the post :)

Julia Tubman // Posted 2 January 2010 at 12:59 pm

Brilliant post-

you spelt everything out very clearly, considering how much of a minefield the benefits system can be!

polly // Posted 2 January 2010 at 1:32 pm

You have a good point about the economic exploitation of young people Grace, but the idea that young women get pregnant to get housing is a complete myth as a study showed.

“”The idea of teenage mothers who deliberately get pregnant to jump the housing queue is a myth, according to a new report.

In fact, only 10 per cent of the “small minority” of women who became mothers without forming any bond with the father, were living alone with their child in social housing six months after the birth, said the Economic and Social Research Council’s centre on microsocial change.

Rather almost half these young mothers were still living with their parents six months later. And if their parents were living in social housing these girls were likely to leave home later than other mothers or those who remained childless.

While early motherhood substantially increased the chance that the woman would eventually move into social housing, she usually moved in with a partner.

Professor John Ermisch, author of the report said: “The phenomenon of young single mothers entering social housing is exaggerated by the media and popular discussion.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/homes-study-explodes-single-mothers-myth-1317865.html

Anji // Posted 2 January 2010 at 3:54 pm

Hear, hear. Would you mind if I included this in January’s Carnival of Feminist Parenting? I think it’s really important stuff, and well-aligned with much of the advocacy we do for the rights of non-adults and anti-age-discrimination. :o)

Karen Vaughan // Posted 2 January 2010 at 4:41 pm

On top of everything else, I was supporting my family of 6 (mother, father, siblings) at the age of 19 on my apprentice rates (9 grand a year at the time) because my family had been on the dole for over 10 years due to redundancy. I will happily put my foot through the telly the next time I see a rich white man say how young people can use the ‘bank of mum and dad’ to sort them out. Usual problem: priveliged idiots that think they know best that should shut up, listen, watch and maybe learn something. Thank you for raising this, the young people out there have my sympathy.

Brigid Keely // Posted 2 January 2010 at 5:25 pm

This is an interesting post.

I’m very surprised that benefits rates don’t change until 25. That seems very off.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood // Posted 2 January 2010 at 8:12 pm

@ earwicga – as far as I can think, parents of all ages receive the same amount of state support (small mercies!), but if anyone wants to correct me please do!

@ Elmo – There is *a* minimum wage for all ages, it just varies a lot until you’re 22. You’re absolutely right about the way some employers treat young people as well. Although a lot of people argue that the lower minimum wage rate encourages employers to hire younger people, I can’t help thinking it encourages a culture in which younger workers are seen as second-rate.

@ polly – I completely agree and it’s a very offensive stereotype that women do this – I wanted to include the report you mentioned but was wary of going on too long.

Of course families are a vital support network for young parents, especially on their own, and I know of a lot of households with three generations living together.

What I really wanted to emphasise is how the disparity in pay and benefits may make some women – particularly those who may have more strained relationships with their own parents for any one of a number of reasons, and may be looking for an escape route – feel as though they’re backed into a corner, from which having a baby does look like a way out.

Even if none of these women take that route, it would be a lot easier to combat the stereotype if there were more options open to them to achieve financial independence.

@ Anji – Ooh yes please do! I’m looking forward to introducing my own mom to more feminist parenting blogs, I think she’ll be a big fan!

@ Julia/Karen/Brigid Thank-you :)

Not to insult anyone who comments on my own blog or LabourList, but I’m already in love with the commenting culture on The F-Word. Everyone really seems to have something to add!

earwicga // Posted 3 January 2010 at 6:00 am

There are in fact quite different rates for single parents aged below 25 and over 25. I have cut and pasted 2009/10 rates per week.

Income Support:

Lone Parent – aged under 18 – usual rate 50.95

Lone Parent – aged under 18 – higher rate payable in specific circumstances 50.95

Lone Parent – aged 18 or over 64.30

Couple – both aged under 18, with responsibility for a child 76.90

Couple – both aged 18 or over 100.95

Dependent Children – from birth to day before 20th birthday 56.11

Housing Benefit:

Lone parent – aged less than 18 50.95

Lone parent – aged over 18 64.30

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Lone Parent – aged under 18 – usual rate 50.95

Lone Parent – aged under 18 – higher rate payable in specific circumstances 50.95

Lone Parent – aged 18 or over 64.30

Couple – both aged under 18, with responsibility for a child 76.90

Couple – both aged 18 or over 100.95

Child or Young Person from birth to the first Monday in the September following the 16th birthday 56.11

http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/index/ssa/benefit_information/benefit_rates.htm#is_per_all

Very easy to find on google!

Single parents are considered to be scrounging scum social problems, but young single parents have to be punished further by higher financial sanctions. And this is the situation we are in after 12 years of a Labour government. Disgusting.

earwicga // Posted 3 January 2010 at 6:05 am

“some women … feel as though they’re backed into a corner, from which having a baby does look like a way out.”

But the report Polly quotes rubbishes what you are saying. Why perpetuate the myth?

And I’m not a commenter you are likely to love. I see no problem with women of any age having children, including teenagers. Where I do see a problem is with a feminist blog publishing the link between pregnancy and a desire for social housing! It only furthers the stigma which is undeserved!

Carol // Posted 3 January 2010 at 7:31 am

I think this blog brings up very good points. The age discrimination issue is across the board. I am an older person and I feel like the younger people are being used against the older people because they do work for less money and have no choices but,to work for less. Older people are being forced out because it seems like companies don’t want to make good on retirements. I think that the world just wants to use us and then throw us away. Although I think this will really be even more sad when the time comes when the old have to depend on the younger to take care of them and the young are already not making enough to support themselves much less have to take care of the elderly.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood // Posted 3 January 2010 at 2:38 pm

@earwicga Oh dear! It was going so well until I said the L-word.

Thanks for looking up those stats. I’d been hoping to wait until I got back to work to look it up on the Advisernet information system as it tends to show a bigger picture than a Google search will. For example, although there are differing rates of housing benefit entitlement, if you’re on income support – which almost every single parent of the ages we’re discussing will be entitled to, and almost no-one of the same age without dependents would be – housing benefit will pay your full rent if you’re in a council property and anything up to £121.15 per week in a privately rented property (again, that’s the Central Greater Manchester figure, and it’s higher if you’ve got more than two children).

Regarding the wage-replacement benefits…as the figures you found show, all lone parents above 18 do receive the same benefit rates, and aren’t subject to the changes at age 25 that I mentioned. But you’re absolutely right that the lower rate of support for parents aged 16 and 17 is shameful. I think it stems from the government’s widespread inconsistency over whether 16-year-olds are children or adults, and I agree that this urgently needs sorting.

When I wrote this post I was very worried that people would think I was suggesting young people get pregnant just to get a council house. It’s an offensive, mindless stereotype and very far from what I believe. That’s why I used the phrase ‘I’m certainly not suggesting that young women get pregnant in order to get housing and benefits.’ I’m really grateful that most readers seemed to appreciate where I was coming from.

But let me just clarify again – I am really, really, really not publishing a link between pregnancy and a desire for social housing. I’m publishing a link between ‘being young and poor without dependents’ and ‘it being really hard to find somewhere to live’. What perpetuates the stereotype is a system that continues to leave young people with less support unless they do have children. If it was easier for childless under-25s to rent privately, then a) social housing waiting lists would be shorter, and b) the Daily Mail types wouldn’t be able to argue that young people who have children are doing it for a house.

@ Carol – I definitely agree that ageism works both ways and have written on my own blog about the unfairness of allowing employers to dismiss people at 65. You raise a very good point – as long as unscrupulous employers are able to take advantage of the lower rate of minimum wage to use young people as cheap labour, older workers will continue to be at a disadvantage, and it must cause a lot of resentment.

sianmarie // Posted 4 January 2010 at 1:30 pm

i was furious when i discovered i was entitled to less benefits because i was under 25. £51 pw. i haven’t been dependent on my parents since i left uni and even then i was more dependent on my loan, i paid my own rent etc. i am an adult, i don’t want to be dependent on anyone. i’m employed now, and 25, but for the time i was unemployed i couldn’t believe i was being discriminated againt on an assumption. i didn’t ask for any money from my parents, i didn’t receive any, i pay rent for the flat i live in, i buy food and pay bills, why should i b refused full JSA on account of people asuming 24 year olds are dependent?

Kath // Posted 4 January 2010 at 9:03 pm

Whether or not young women have babies ‘to get council houses’ (and Grace has clearly stated she does not believe that), surely a system that leaves this route as the most financially viable option to young women deserves critiquing?

Sara // Posted 7 January 2010 at 9:56 pm

Just prior to th Low Pay Commission passed the bill we (the YWCA) brought some young women to have a meeting with the commissioners in an attempt to standardise the minimum wage . The young women expressed their views and outlined their exeriences and difficulties on having to live on the minimum wage.

We made it very clear that through a depression young women are the ones who suffer most. The commissioners quite abjectly responded that they would take our considerations into account before finalising the bill but that they had no intention of standardising mininmum wages across the ages (in the foreseeable future). Furthermore, they clarified that the minimum wage was not designed to be something one can survive on.

Hmm. What is the point of having a minimum wage then?

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