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The Causes And Consequences Of Youth Homelessness Social Work Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 5348 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Homelessness has had a history in the UK far back from the 7th century, when the kings would pass laws to punish vagrants. Ever since then the number of homeless still rises and falls, and has taken a much vast shape, enrolling the youth into it, and not just the adult homeless. Even though, in principle, the UK has adhered to the code of housing legislation ever since the first legislation of 1977, followed by the current legislation of 2002, it is worth noting that housing and homeless legislation does not apply to all parts of UK. The decentralised local governments of the four countries of UK have been vested with the responsibility of providing for the homeless, although Northern Ireland is no longer a decentralised government.

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This dissertation will set out to examine the causes and consequences of youth homelessness in UK, simultaneously researching into the corresponding government initiatives to house and rehabilitate these young homeless people. The age group covered in this paper is 16-25 years old. Homelessness has been an important issue in the UK, as is evident from the housing of homeless legislations to date. It is an issue which still demands strong consideration and interventions by the government and the voluntary organisations at the macro level, and family and friend at the micro level, to help prevent youth homelessness. The paper will explore the legislative context in the UK vis-à-vis the work of non-profit organisations and government agencies. The paper will also delve into the details of interventions by the civil society organisations/charities in addressing the issue of youth homelessness and examine the role of social workers in the given scenario.

The dearth of social housing facilities and lack of support from family and friends has led to youth living in homelessness. There are very many factors causing homelessness, which will be explored in this dissertation as we move to the succeeding sections in detail. To name a few would be those of the collapse of relationships, women fleeing abusive homes, being evicted from homes, alcoholism, and they want of complete autonomy from parents for example. However, it is important to understand that though the causes of homelessness can be categorised into social, economical, political and policy level factors, the reasons for youth homeless could also be viewed and should be viewed as individual factors. Hence, it is important to find out in detail what leads to these situations and makes them robust factors of homelessness.

This paper will inspect in detail all such factors causing homelessness and consequences thereupon the youth, referring back and forth to the legislative actions and their effectiveness, and the kind of role social work can play in stabilising their lives and ensuring their welfare.


Dissertation structure

Chapter one will be the introduction to the issue of youth homelessness in the UK. The key concepts of this subject will be defined as well as terms relevant and important in providing clarity for better comprehension of the issue. The introductory chapter will also detail the significance of this topic and the legislative context of the issue, along with the kind of work being done by the voluntary organisations and the government in dealing with youth homelessness.

Chapter two will review the literature of past ten years, comprising of journals, articles, legislations and books dealing with the issue of youth homelessness, and their contribution to the understanding of causes and consequences of this issue. Reviewing literature would also help us compare and contrast the profile and nature of youth homelessness, whether it has changed over time. This chapter will also discuss the scale of youth homelessness in the past decade, by investigating into the most recent statistics of a unique nationwide study conducted in the UK, in 2008, by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and delve into an in-depth research of the issue through several journals, namely of Joan Smith, Isobel Anderson and Julie Christian (2003), Thomson, (2004), Pleace et al (2008) and Quilgars et al, (2004 & 2008), Mary Ellen O’Connell (2003), Graham Tipple and Suzanne Speak (2003) and Sean A. Kidd (2006). I will also use these journals since the authors have written on the issue of housing the homeless extensively, which helps us in grasping the issue in totally. Moreover, in this section, I will also assess the importance of having a theoretical knowledge base in dealing with such issues as issues of youth/adolescent behaviour.

Chapter three will look at the present role and interventions of social workers into this whole issue of youth homelessness and the limitations of social work practice in holistically dealing with the issue.

Chapter four will present case studies which will help analyse the problems, causes and consequences for the homelessness of these individuals in relation to the already reviewed literature; vis-à-vis their experiences of the same.

Chapter five will be provide a closure to the paper by summarising the overall discussion undertaken in this dissertation and the role social work can play in the context of youth homelessness. However, role of social work will keep featuring throughout the paper, but certain specific discussions will be take place in this chapter to conclude the dissertation.


The aim of this paper is to investigate the subject of youth homelessness; its causes and consequences on the youth aged 16-25 years of age, with a focus on difficulties they face in living their lives without any family support, more so when they are not equipped with life skills and emotional support, along with financial instability. There are multidimensional factors that create such situations where the youth find themselves homeless, marginalised, victimised, exploited and excluded.

My interaction with such youth during my twenty five days field work placement at the Framework has motivated me to further explore the subject of youth homelessness, with focus on the causes and consequences that make them ‘vulnerable’ and hence homeless. This interaction and exposure to the youth problems turning them into homeless youths made me curious to study the issue in detail, investigate and articulate experiences of such youths, who have either undergone or are currently facing social exclusion and being all by themselves at a young age. The unavailability of family support adversely impacts their entire existence, driving them towards precarious forces, such as unemployment, substance abuse, lack of development skills and so on.

Strictly sticking to the topic of my research, I will be addressing important subsidiary question, such as the efficacy of the current legislations and government initiatives to curb youth homelessness, and the corresponding social work practices and interventions of the voluntary organisations in this whole issue. This paper will investigate the occurrence of the issue on social, personal, legal and policy levels.

Reference shall be made to a range of literature, comprising recent articles, journals, studies, legislations and information gathered from the organisation I did my field work at, to support my own field work experiences with the available evidences in literary form and statistics. One such piece of reference would be the study conducted across the country, Youth Homelessness in the UK, (Quilgars. D et al, 2008), which reveals that despite significant policy developments across the UK to address youth homelessness in recent years, most particularly the extension of priority need groups and a new emphasis on the prevention of homelessness, 75,000 young people experienced homelessness in 2006-07. This scenario and inadequacy of policies and legislation in ending youth homelessness instigated me to choose the subject, to examine the magnitude of the problem and its ramifications.

Under the Children’s Act 1989, children of this age group of 16-18 years are children in need of care and protection and are all entitled to welfare and development services from the local authorities in cases where they either don’t have parents or have them but there are threats to child’s existence in their presence. Yet, many youngsters in the UK are living in threatening circumstances, which certainly has a direct implication on the country’s overall economy and human resource as well.

Lastly, I will use and analyse the given problem in the light of some case studies that I documented during my field work, which gave me an opportunity to listen to the real life experiences of a few homeless young people and how they have been assisted, to what extent by social work practices and organisations they came in contact with. This will also help establish a link between theory and practicality when social workers counter people with real issues unfold before them.

Chapter 1


Food, clothing and shelter are the basic needs of any individual born to live. Anything less than these basic pre-requisites can expose human beings to threats to well-being, psycho-social imbalances and economic instability, each have its implications on the individual. While food is required for one to live and adequate and decent clothing to cover oneself, shelter is most important for ones safety and personal space. Absence or insufficient provision of any of these basic needs can result into insecurities and decreased morale.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fulfilment of the basic physical requirements including the need for food, water, sleep and warmth is essential for people to move on to the next level of needs, which are for safety and security. All other needs become secondary until these physiological needs are met (Cherry, 2010) Therefore, it is important to acknowledge what impact homelessness can have on young people in fulfilling the other basic needs and developing their potential.

Homelessness in the UK has exceeded the mere meaning of being without a roof by several folds. A person could be homeless even if he may possess a family house if that home is not conducive for the stay of the person. Since this paper will focus on youth homelessness, it is important to understand the legal definitions of homelessness in the context of young people and build the ideas around it, which this paper seeks to do. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact number of homeless young people in the UK due to their high mobility, yet the recent estimate as per the 2006-07 study in the UK, (Quilgars, et. al, 2008) tells us that at least 75,000 young people experience homelessness. This is an estimation based on the number of youth connected to organisations providing housing services and hence, many go un-estimated (Robinson and Farrington, 1999).

There have been two predominant approaches used to explain youth homelessness. These are called the ‘individually’ based perspectives and ‘structurally’ based perspectives (Hutson and Liddiard, 1994). The former viewing youth homelessness as a result of an individual’s own mistakes, which render him/her homeless, such as not paying rent or not obeying their parents. This gets them into the situation where they lose their ‘homes’ and become ‘shelterless’. In contrast, the ‘Structural’ perspective understands youth homelessness as an outcome of social factors and inequalities that impact individuals, such as the effect of poverty (Giddens, 1998). These approaches are important to underpin the contemporary scenario of youth homelessness and will be referred to in the course of the dissertation.

Legislations, on the other hand, provide a framework for all social actions to operate in line with the set standards and procedures, defining the problem in a legally accepted way. Prior to the passage of the Homeless Persons Act 1977, the liability of providing for the homeless people was entrusted with the social services department in its entirety. This Act later shifted the responsibility onto the district (local) housing department focusing on the shelter needs and not the families’ unmet needs that rendered them homeless (Smith, 2003).

Definition of Homelessness and some vital statistics

Even though in principle the UK adheres to the code of housing legislation ever since the first legislation of 1977, yet it is worth noting that housing and homeless legislation does not apply to all parts of UK. The decentralised local governments of the four countries of UK have been vested with the responsibility of providing for the homeless, although Northern Ireland is no longer a decentralised government. (Quilgars, et al 2008)

In the UK, the definition of homelessness is not just that of an individual being without a roof and/or living on streets. It is much broader than this and anyone seeking accommodation in a friend’s house, staying in a hostel, or living in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation is classed as homeless. This may be because the person does not have any rights to stay where he/she live or even of his/her own family home is unsuitable for stay. (Need Reference)

“A person is homeless if he or she has no accommodation which they are entitled to occupy and which it would be reasonable for them to continue to occupy.” (Brayne and Carr, 2005, p.700).

The Homelessness Act of 1996 laid down parameters for qualifying as being ‘priority needs group’ for those seeking assistance from local authorities. Under this legislation, the priority needs group did not include the youth aged 16-24 years. There was no provision for this category of young generation that was increasingly being lost to homelessness and problems that emerged from being homeless. A pregnant woman, person residing with dependent children, vulnerability induced by old age, mental illness, physical disability or other special reasons were culminated into the ‘priority group; having priority need for accommodation. By the virtue of this Act, the local authority was duty bound to provide temporary accommodation (usually Bread & Breakfast), while they investigated their application.

The 1996 homelessness legislation on the whole did not have provisions for the youth homeless, where it could have included under the category of age induced vulnerability. The 16/17 year old homeless were brought under the purview of 2002 applicable in England and Wales, while the Homeless Act 2002 was followed by separate legislation in Scotland in 2003, and in North Ireland (Smith, 2004). The 2002 definition also included those lately released from prisons or youth custody and previous members of armed forces and those with a history of care.

UK homelessness education has emphasised on two types of housing situations for defining its homelessness. These are, the occupancy status and security and insecurity of the tenure. The 2002 legislation has included all forms of violence leading to homelessness through loss of the right to a home into the definition, which was earlier limited to only domestic violence in 1996 Act. (Smith, 2003).

Homeless legislation right from the first one in 1977 till 2002, have created a national framework for defining homeless over the last 25 years. Homelessness legislations and the government initiative for rough sleepers across the UK have also fundamentally shaped the definition of homelessness. There are three categories for defining homelessness in the UK, which are; Statutory Homeless, Non-statutory homeless and Rough Sleepers (who sleep in the open or uninhabitable places like sheds etc.). Statutory homelessness refers to the applicants to whom the local service authorities owe the duty of housing because they fulfil the criteria of being in need and vulnerable, hence fitting into the ‘priority needs group’.

The existing data, though inadequate, estimates that at least 75,000 16-24 year olds experienced homelessness in the UK in the year 2006-07 alone. The largest group of statutory homeless were the young people at 43,075 of 75,000. Many young homeless children of this age bracket are found to be with dependent children themselves, particularly those from18-24 years of age. Scotland and many urban areas of the UK tend to report rate of statutorily homeless young people. Young girls qualify to be more in this category of statutorily homeless than young men (Quilgars., et al 2008). Of the 8,300 pregnancies among girls conceiving before the age of 16 in 2008, two-fifths resulted in births and the other three-fifths in abortions. Teenage motherhood is eight times as common amongst those from manual social background as for those from managerial and professional backgrounds (Conception statistics, ONS England and Wales) and ISD Scotland, Great Britain; updated Feb 2010).

The ‘non-statutory homeless’ are those who lose their accommodation due to their own mistakes, such as those who fail to pay their rent and therefore lose their hold over the accommodation. Such category does not fit into the eligibility criteria of seeking housing support from the local authorities. Of the estimated homeless youth in 2006-07, 31,000 were numbered to be non-statutorily homeless young people using Supporting People services during the given year.

Qualitative evidence tells us that on a whole considerable number of young people have experienced ‘rough sleeping’ (sleeping in open spaces) over the course of a year than on any given night in the UK. The combined total of estimates and counts of rough sleepers in England in 2010 was 1,247; this comprised 440 from the 70 authorities that conducted a count and 807 from the 256 authorities that provided estimates (Rough Sleeping England – Total Street Count and Estimates 2010, 23 July 2010).

Local Authorities were especially challenged by the voluntary organisations and welfare advocates on the issue of young single homeless because such a high proportion of the young single homeless living in hostels, having a history of local authority child care. The voluntary agencies and welfare advocates observed that many young homeless also fell qualified as priority need under the Homeless Persons’ Legislation because they were vulnerable (Smith, 2003).

In 1996, a Youth Homelessness Action Partnership of NGOs came up with their own wider definition of youth homelessness, which was also based on the housing situations of youth. Their definitions included those ‘immediately homeless’ and/or rough sleeping (on streets, dilapidated buildings, and includes those who spend periods rough sleeping, and other periods on friends floors or hostels); those living short term with friends or in direct access hostels (‘short-term accommodation’); those ‘doubled up’ – living with relatives or friends (‘hidden homeless’); and those who may be asked to leave their accommodation or whose accommodation is temporary including those living under licence agreements (‘insecure accommodation’ and ‘lodgings’) (Youth Homeless Action Partnership, 1996).

Thus, the housing situation has been considered to a great extent to shape up the changing definitions of homelessness and youth homelessness. There have been several studies focusing on different types of homeless situations. The Homelessness Act 2002 is certainly an extensive Act that has taken into account the youth who are so much at risk of losing their family home more so after attaining the age of 16 years and even when the children turn 13 years old. The UK, being a child rights country, has set up structures and systems to assist and support the youth in resuming a steady life. Much stress is thus laid on inter agency and coordinated efforts of the government and NGOs/charities in evolving strategies to combat and tackle the issue. There are many agencies, both voluntary and government that have instituted or funded the institution of hostels for these homeless youth, consequences of which will be dealt with in the coming sections on the causes and consequences of youth homelessness. (Need reference)

Significance of the study

This dissertation is has its own significance, whereby it will look at the whole issue of youth homelessness at four levels, the social, personal, legal and state policy level. Thereafter, it will discuss the far reaching adverse impacts this has had and continues to have on young people that also bring all the legal actions and their efficacy, role of authorities concerned and family structure in the UK under a scanner.

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Legislative Context

The Children’s Act 1989 made strong recommendations of housing the young people who move out of the local authorities’ care, This Act gave a new dimension to the social work practice in the context of youth homelessness. Children aged between 16-17 years were designated as ‘children in need’. This bound the local authorities to provide accommodation to these homeless irrespective of the fact under whose jurisdiction they fell, or was it the Social Service Department’s or district authorities’ duty to do so. This age group was accepted as the priority need group. The new legislation of 2002 also expanded its circumference accepting this age group as highly vulnerable and hence to be served on priority basis. (www.legislation.gov.uk ).

Prior to the 2002 Act, the authority had a duty to house those applicants of which they were convinced were households/individuals in the priority need group, as set out in section 189 of the 1996 Act. However, by section 197 of the 1996 Act, the authority would simply limit its role to that of an advisor by enabling the people in need of accommodation find other alternative suitable accommodation by themselves. The 2002 Act repealed this section and made it obligatory for the authorities under section 193, to secure suitable accommodation for applicants who are eligible, homeless through no fault of their own, and have a priority need. This duty was limited to two years by the 1996 Act; the 2002 Act removed this 2 year limitation. (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/7/notes/division/3 ).

The 1996 Act provided that allocations could only be made to those accepted as a qualifying person and placed on the housing register maintained by the housing authority. This requisite was removed by the 2002 Act. The Act requires all applications to be considered by authorities, including applications for a transfer of accommodation from existing tenants. (www.legislation.gov.uk).

The 2002 legislation amended the definition of violence by encompassing all kinds of violence that leads to homelessness. It mandated the local authorities to conduct homelessness reviews in their areas and come up with strategies to combat it, and work in collaboration with the voluntary and statutory organisations to deal with this social menace taking toll on youth well-being in the UK. The local housing authorities were permitted to offer accommodation to the non priority need homeless households as well.

From the onset, the policies and legislation emphasised on the preventive aspect to curb homelessness, particularly youth homelessness. Pilot preventive schemes have included Safe in the City and Safe Moves (Nistala and Dane, 2000; Safe in the City, 2000; Quilgars et al., 2004). A new National Youth Homeless Scheme (NYHS) was launched in England in 2007, a central scheme to tackle the issue, led by the YMCA and Centrepoint. This comprised innovative prevention strategies to reduce youth homelessness, and work with those who already homeless. Supported Lodging exemplar schemes in 2007/08 for knowledge sharing on experiences gained by working with authorities for developing such schemes where need arises (CLG, 2007a).

Joint projects with Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) to explore how youth homeless could be reduced were undertaken by the central government. This focused on age wise intervention strategy for children ranging from 16-17 years old homeless youth and those at risk, care leavers (18-21 years old) who are homeless or potentially homeless, children in households living in transient shelters and the children in intentionally homeless households. All these circumstance possessed the power to make these children vulnerable to homelessness.

Through Safe Moves, an early intervention model was devised to deal with the problem by using peer monitoring, family mediation and life skill training with young people aged 13-18 years to prevent homelessness. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, young people at risk due to financial insecurity and sexual exploitation are also described as priority need group by guidance to legislation. Wales has set the age limit for this group at 18-20, whereas North Ireland and Scotland have not set any specific age limit. Additionally, Scotland also includes this age group youth involved in substance misuse as priority need group.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 extended rights of temporary accommodation to all single (non-priority) homeless people for the first time and the 2003 Housing Act enables the Scottish ministers to abolish the priority need test to provide accommodation services to all those assessed homeless. Scotland is also setting out to achieve the target of abolishing priority need by 2012, thereby giving all homeless people including the youth, the right to permanent re-housing (Code of Guidance on Homelessness, Chapter 6, 2005). England also has a target to abolish Bread and Breakfast accommodation use to emergency situations only for 16-17 years old.

Support programmes were also introduced across the UK in 2003, to help local authorities and service providers ensure independent living of the homeless and hence socially excluded in general and youth people at risk and vulnerable to other related problems (which will be discussed in the following chapter 2) by imparting life skills training, vocational trades as employment skills, housing support, tenancy etc. Local authorities have enhanced the number of supported housing’ schemes that provide bed-spaces for those with mental health problems, physical health problems, learning disabilities, alcohol or drug use problems etc.

(The Supporting People’s Programme, available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmcomloc/649/649i.pdf ).

The Every Child Matters framework and introduction of Child Trust’s arrangements have improved the range of indicators across the country. Children’s Commissioners have been established in each country, known as Children and Young People Commissioners in Scotland and North Ireland. Also, lately in England, emphasis has been laid on the role of parenting (Social Exclusion Task Force, 2008). Leaving care acts have also extended the obligation of the social services to provide care leavers with accommodation till the age of 18 years across the UK.

However, there are pros and cons of every development that takes place. In fact, it will be most opportune to discuss as I move along in my work whether it’s the disasters that lead to development or the vice versa. Though youth homelessness is not a disaster, i.e. it would technically not fall under any defined parameter compounding to a disaster, natural calamity or a man-made one. Nonetheless, seeing the level of risk a youth is posed with at a fragile age, where all the other problems follow her or him being without a family home, is not less than a disaster for that young child, perhaps a situational and human made disaster.

To a certain extent, these developments and expansion in facilities by the government and voluntary associations to the young homeless children, who actually leave their families to live a precarious independent life has in some way aggravated youth homelessness and the misuse of the term ‘homeless’. My 25 days field placement made me learn how the youngsters, particularly the teenage girls under 16, got pregnant to just acquire accommodation, away from home. Hence, it is very important to maintain equilibrium to counter the issue and not aggravate it, by default though. It is here that the role of social work takes precedence in mediating the situation at the very initial stage. The law making bodies of the nation seems to have grasped this urgency to work at the preventive aspects and not just intercede at the curative level, as a result of which preventive measures for Homelessness are being talked of in the legislation of 1996 and 2002. It is extremely important for the authorities to work on the prevention part along with rendering services and relief to the needy. The next chapter shall now focus on reviewing the relevant literature on this topic to give a better understanding of the issues that face young homeless people.

Structure of the study-what will be covered in the subsequent chapters

Chapter Two: – Literature Review


Coverage of the study/ Criteria of literature (like what source I am going to use eg-journal article, books ,research and year)

Causes of youth homelessness

Consequences of youth homelessness

5-Similarities and Dissimilarities between proposed problem and existing studies

Scope of relevance of theoretical knowledge

Chapter summary

Chapter Three: Social worker vs. homeless youth

Organisations working on homeless issues

Role of social worker in dealing with homeless youth in UK

In the 1980s, the voluntary organisations challenged the legislation for not considering the young single homeless, whose number was increasing rapidly in the hostels. Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 2002 extended its reach by amending the previous 1996 legislation and covering the young single homeless and those aged 16-17 years by designating them as priority need group. Homelessness has always been defined in different ways by the voluntary organisations, which entails different aspects. Voluntary organisations have stressed on including the single homeless people into the category of homeless and many such categories from time to time.

Therefore the problem of youth homeless is a manifestation of wider social and economic reasons primarily. There are a range of personal and social circumstances that land youth into such situations (Scottish Executive, 2002; OPDM, 2005; Cabinet Office, 2006; DSD, 2007). Anybody can face homelessness, however, it the socially and economically marginalised and those hailing from poor families are deemed to be much vulnerable in coping with such situations. Such situations for homeless youth have often led to them losing their jobs and education, after moving away from their mooring. However, these progressive changes in the homelessness laws in the country have partly resulted from the NGOs’ and charity sector lobbying with the government, based on research into the needs of homeless people that has been undertaken in the UK.(need to understand the use of this paragraph in legislative heading)

Limitations in social work practice

Chapter Four: Analysis of the problem

Case studies

Analysis of the problem

Chapter summary

Chapter Five: Discussion


Implication of the social work practice

Chapter summary

Future research


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