In response to the cost of living crisis, our CEO Chas Walker has written to local MPs outlining the challenges faced by our charity, the wider sector and the young people we support.
If you feel strongly about the issues you can easily write to your MP using Write to Them. We’ve created a set of notes (this document) which you can use if that is helpful.
Youth homelessness continues to grow in our community. At the start of the pandemic we (YMCA DownsLink Group) saw a 61% increase in the number of young people presenting as homeless across Sussex and Guildford. Although this dropped in 2021, it has stabilised at around 37% higher than pre pandemic levels. Not only is this trend impacting the life chances of local young people, but it continues to put a strain on our services, from our Youth Advice Centres to our supported housing projects.
Despite the challenges, our commitment to tackling youth homelessness in our communities is unwavering. In the past year, to deal with the increase, we’ve increased the number of beds we provide to 787, providing young people (16-24) with a safe home and a pathway back into education, training or employment. On average a young person lives with us for around two years and we equip them with the life skills they need to ‘move on’ into successful independent living. This stability, after a chaotic start in life, can make all the difference to their long-term future.
Whilst we managed to successfully navigate the Covid pandemic, keeping all of our services running, including our mental health and youth advice services, we and the young people we support, face an unprecedented financial crisis which threatens our future.
Like the rest of the country, our core issue is energy. Our utility costs are set to rise from £0.5million to £1.5million. Unlike the business sector, we cannot pass all these costs on to the young people we support because they won’t be able to afford their rent. Our charity doesn’t have the financial reserves to absorb these costs over a sustained period. Whilst it is good to know that our energy costs will be capped for six months, we need longer-term certainty to sustain our current service levels and address the increasing need of homeless and ‘at risk’ young people in our communities.
Currently our main source of income is from public sector partnership contracts, but these are being squeezed and, in general, we are not getting an inflationary uplift. The government are currently consulting registered housing providers on capping the current rent settlement uplift of CPI +1% to between 3-7%. We understand the need to protect social housing residents and that housing associations need to absorb a share of this. But, the registered housing sector is diverse and there is a big difference between the larger associations who simply provide tenancies and the supported housing providers, like us, who provide wider support to vulnerable people. Many of the larger housing associations have moved away from ‘supported accommodation’ because it is financially challenging and these financial challenges, over many years, means we don’t have the same level of reserves as large housing associations. Applying a cap to our rent uplift will put a strain on our organisation, and others running supported housing, that could fundamentally destabilise the sector.
In addition to the above pressures, the fundraising landscape is also challenging as individuals are seeing their disposable income reduce drastically and charities are competing for limited grants and trust funding.
As outlined earlier, the need for our services is increasing. As local authority thresholds for statutory support rise, more young people are ineligible for help with unaffordable housing, so reach out to charities like YMCA. At both a national and local level, funding for preventative services, like youth work, is at an all-time low. In addition, whilst the number of young people seeking help for mental health and emotional wellbeing issues was rising pre-pandemic, the current levels, and increased severity of those issues, is at epidemic proportions.
Moreover, as the cost of living crisis worsens and families and young people come under increasing financial pressure, we will see even greater demand for our support services (homelessness prevention, family mediation, counselling). We’re also concerned by the planned changes (Mini Budget 23rd Sept 2022) to Universal Credit and threat to benefits that risk plunging people, particularly young people, further into poverty.
Another aspect of the cost-of-living crisis that impacts us directly is staffing. Our ‘capped’ income means we cannot raise staff salaries to meet the rise in inflation. Whilst no one works in our sector for the money, we are seeing many skilled and dedicated frontline workers leave the sector because they can’t afford to live on what we’re able to pay.
We appreciate that there is already significant strain on national finances, following Covid and there are demands across different sectors for financial government support. However, we believe that investing in the charitable sector, particularly around youth homelessness, youth work and mental health, ultimately saves the Government significant money. Investing in young people at this crucial stage in their lives has huge long-term benefits as it:
- prevents young people become intrenched in homelessness and associated offending behaviours
- supports young people back into education, work and employment
- prevents sexual and criminal exploitation through targeted youth work
- reduces severity and length of mental health illness through early intervention
- prevents homelessness from happening through family mediation & advice services
We also welcome the Government’s recent policy announcement (Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, Sept 22) with its commitment to end rough sleeping. However, our fear is that without some direct support for the sector, the infrastructure the Government is relying on to deliver this policy won’t exist, and the pledge unachievable.
We would value connecting with you further and would like to invite you to visit us and our projects so that you can see for yourself the impact of the work that we do.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Chas Walker, CEO YMCA DownsLink Group