A majority of the public believes that David Cameron's plan to end housing benefit for under-25s would result in more young people sleeping rough, according to a poll for The Independent.
The Prime Minister's controversial idea, floated in a speech last week, has been attacked by homelessness charities, who warn it will leave young adults without a roof over their head.
The plan is also under fire from the Liberal Democrats, who are warning they will block it if the Conservatives try to bring it in before the 2015 election. "The mood is 'over our dead bodies'," one senior Liberal Democrat source said yesterday.
ComRes tested the charities' claims in a survey of 1,000 people. Asked whether ending housing benefit for people under 25 would inevitably cause some young people to be left sleeping rough on the streets, 59 per cent agreed and 35 per cent disagreed.
Surprisingly, there were few differences by age or social group. The findings raise questions over the Conservatives' claims that their welfare policies are popular with the public.
Even Tory supporters were split down the middle on whether young people would be made homeless. While 47 per cent of Tory voters agreed with the charities' claims, the same proportion disagreed. Two in three supporters of the Liberal Democrats (67 per cent) and Labour (64 per cent) agreed that young people would be forced onto the streets.
Mr Cameron insisted that housing benefit would not be withdrawn from vulnerable groups such as those with a destructive home life or leaving foster care, but suggested that more under-25s should live with their parents to cut the state's £2bn-a-year bill for their housing costs.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "We fear cutting housing benefit for under-25s will inevitably lead to a rise in homelessness, and this poll shows the majority of the public share that concern. While excesses in the system should be rooted out, abolishing the entire safety net for young people is not the way to go about it."
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, the national charity for the single homeless, said: "Tens of thousands of young people rely on housing benefit to literally keep a roof over their heads. For the vast majority, particularly those who have experienced family breakdown, returning to live with their parents is just not an option. Taking away their right to housing benefit would leave many no alternative but to sleep rough."
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