Young people are facing increasingly tough times, particularly if they live in areas of high deprivation, or come from vulnerable circumstances. In a report commissioned by the Princes Trust and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, almost three-quarters of young people surveyed felt that life was harder than ever for the young unemployed with nearly half saying that finding a job was harder than this time last year. Within work, more than two fifths felt their job was insecure, and that they were “disposable”. Meanwhile, the Government is eying up the possibility of making further savings through cutting housing benefit for the under 25s. Whilst they are careful to suggest that this is only a possibility, there is a sense of an idea being tested to see if it proves popular with the electorate.
Back in 1981, organisations in Wester Hailes were aware that young people were struggling. Wester Hailes had a higher than average number of young people, with approximately 40% being under the age of 21. Unemployment statistics showed that unemployment rates for young people were as high as 70% in 1981. The Wester Hailes Flats Project was one of the projects initiated in response to this increasingly desperate situation. In 1981, workers at the community bases such as the Venchie Café grew aware that some of the young people using local services were sleeping rough. The Flats Project was established to address this situation, offering accommodation along with advice and ongoing support.
In 1986, the project published an Annual Report which reflected on the past experiences of the project and looked towards future developments. It also gave some success stories to illustrate what the project had been able to achieve, such as the following:
“Mike (aged 17) was living at home with his parents and working in Wester Hailes. Conditions at home were pretty bad. Overcrowding caused considerable tension in the household and there were constant arguments. He ended up sleeping rough and came to the Flats project looking for help. The project was able to offer him supported accommodation and was aiming to transfer the tenancy to him.”
“Karen (aged 17) had been staying with friends for a few months but was desperate to get a place of her own. She didn’t’ want to leave Wester Hailes and was prepared to share. She completed an application form to the council and put her name down for a few housing association flats. After some time a place came up in one of our supported flats. Karen was interviewed and offered a place. The project helped her claim her furniture grant and represented her at an appeal tribunal. She is still living in the flat, receiving support and hopes to take on the tenancy in her own right.”
The Flats Project reported that they would like to expand the reach and level of support being offered. In 1986 they were in negotiations with the Edinburgh District Council’s Housing Department for the release of another 6 single tenancies. They were also drawing up an application for Urban Aid funding through the council. The funding would enable them to set up a drop-in advice centre with a team of workers. They were also interested in exploring the idea of emergency accommodation, offering a time-out alternative for young people in a respite situation.
The Flats Project chose their motto Without Homes There Is Frustration because they felt it echoed the feelings of the young people they worked with. However, the project was also facing challenges created by circumstances beyond their control. Major changes to the benefits system were on the horizon in 1986. In particular, young people under the age of 18 who were not yet in work or on YTS would no longer be eligible for benefits under the new system. The Flats Project used housing benefit and DHSS payments to fund some of the costs associated with the supported accommodation and their client group were predominantly in the 16-21 age group. Funding for the project would therefore be a major concern if Urban Aid funding was not awarded. In the light of the current situation both here in Wester Hailes and in the wider context, such concerns seem only too familiar.
You can read more from the 1986 Annual Report here.
You can read more about the Wester Hailes Flats Project here.