The Tories have been accused of cynically targeting vulnerable young people to slash government spending by Beverley Nielsen, the Lib Dem candidate in the West Midland Mayoral campaign.
She was speaking after Whitehall data revealed that 700 people, between the ages of 18 and 21, would lose their right to housing benefit in Birmingham alone under new Universal Credit rules.
“Housing benefit for the under-22s has long been seen as a valuable safety net for those who can't afford private rent levels, and for those who have left their family homes for a variety of reasons,” says Nielsen.
“The option of being able to live with one's parents is not available to everyone, and these individuals are desperately trying to build new and independent lives - which is something the state should be encouraging.
“Instead, this callous policy will do the opposite. In some cases, young people will be forced to return to their homes. In others, they will simply become homeless, end up on the streets, and be exposed to the risk of emotional and physical abuse.
"It's also clear that even the Department of Work & Pensions was ashamed of these latest benefit cuts, as it announced the changes on a Friday afternoon when Parliament wasn't sitting. They tried to 'bury' bad news, but the LibDems are determined that this decision should be fully exposed and debated.”
Nielsen fears landlords in the private rented sector (PRS) will immediately snub potential tenants in the 18-21 age group, after hearing of the cuts.
“All they care about is ensuring their income is guaranteed, so once they realise a particular group doesn't have the certainty of housing benefit, they won't want them in their properties,” she says.
“The underlying issue here, of course, is the shambolic ineptitude of this government's housing policy over the last seven years. They haven't provided anything like sufficient homes for people of all ages, and there's also been a catastrophic failure to deliver enough affordable homes for those on low incomes.
“As a result, the PRS sector has boomed, the imbalance of supply and demand means rents have soared, and now thousands of young people across the West Midlands will suffer.
“During my campaign, I have been working with various housing associations to come up with practical ideas on how to solve this issue. As Mayor, housing is a huge priority and I will ensure that this age group is not forgotten – after all, they are our goldmine of talent and our building blocks for the future.”