An ‘absolutely vital’ charity which helps homeless young people in Leyland could face closure if planned budget cuts go ahead.
SLEAP (Support in Leyland with Emergency Accommodation for Young People), based in Leyland Lane, has been running in the town for 20 years.
But fears have been raised that if the Government’s proposal to slash housing benefits for unemployed people aged under 25 goes ahead next year, the charity will seriously struggle financially.
Rev Tony Crawford, chair of trustees for SLEAP, said that for the first time in a decade, the charity spent more money than it had coming in from grants last year, and admitted the organisation could be crippled by the proposed move by the Government.
He said: “We have very genuine concerns about this.
“The young people we deal with are placed with host families so they don’t have to live on the streets, and they often claim housing benefits to assist in the cost of living with a host family.
“If that goes, there would be quite a big hole in our budget.
“Last year, we were working at a loss of £10,000, which is the first time we’ve been in that situation for 10 years.
“We’re quite prudent and we have built up reserves, but if this carries on for five years or so, and gets even worse with the government’s proposals, it could mean that supported housing projects like SLEAP will have to stop in the long-term. That is a definite possibility.”
Labour’s parliamentary candidate for South Ribble, Veronica Bennett, has also voiced her worries.
She said: “I talked to the volunteers at SLEAP and they told me about their concerns, so my priority now is to make sure that people see what the result of these benefit changes will be.”
“These people are homeless for serious reasons such as abuse, parental death or a breakdown of a relationship with parents, and the social impact of these proposed cuts is that charities like SLEAP cannot function.
“The charity does absolutely vital work in Leyland; it’s a safety net for people who would otherwise be without a roof over their head.
“These young people need the support that a family can offer, and anything we can do as a community to protect this service is essential.”
South Ribble’s Conservative MP, Lorraine Fullbrook, argued that reviewing the benefits system is the action of a ‘responsible government.’
She said: “The chancellor has pledged to look at housing benefit for the under-25s.
“It cannot be right that there are many people who are unable to afford to move out of their home, while there are people on benefits who can get housing benefit under the age of 25.
“Under Labour, the UK’s housing benefit bill ballooned, and would have risen to £25 billion by 2014/15 without reform.
“Currently, there are 400,000 claimants under 25 who receive around £2 billion a year in housing benefit.
“This makes up a significant part of the welfare budget and I think it is right that this should be examined. It is a responsible government that examines everything that taxpayers’ hard earned money is spent on.
“However, I would like to make clear that this remains a proposal at this time and the government has no plans to introduce further changes to housing benefit without the necessary debate and legislative procedure.
“I would like to commend SLEAP for all their good work helping to house vulnerable young people in South Ribble, and I am happy to listen to their concerns should any further changes to housing benefit be proposed.”