Since the 1988 Social Security Act prevented 16 and 17-year-olds from claiming Income Support - on the grounds that they would all be guaranteed Youth Training places - the number of young people awarded emergency severe hardship payments has increased sevenfold.
The report by the children's charity Barnardo's and Youthaid, the youth unemployment group, is the first long-term assessment of the after-effects of the 1988 Act. It claims the Government now accepts its Youth Training Scheme has failed hundreds of thousands of young people, causing them unnecessary hardship and problems.
The report cites figures from the Government's Severe Hardship Claims Unit published today, showing the number of young people who received the hardship payments of pounds 25.55 a week if living at home and pounds 33.60 if living away from home 'for some good reason' has increased from 10,669 in 1988-89, the first year of operation, to 77,906 in 1991-92.
Severe hardship payments were intended as a stop-gap measure for a small number of young people between or waiting for training places, but they have become mainstream provision for thousands.
The numbers applying for such grants have also increased from 1,200 a month in 1989 to 7,700 last year. The highest number of claims come from Scotland and the North-east but the most dramatic increases appear in the South-east, where applications have risen by more than 100 per cent since 1989, and the South-west, which recorded an increase of 1,360.
The proportion of successful applications has also risen, from 68 per cent in 1988 to 83 per cent in 1992, showing the Government recognises that more and more young people cannot find Youth Training places.
Youthaid says the Government has failed to find Youth Training places for hundreds of thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds and estimates that of the 124,700 young people not in full-time education and without jobs or training, 78 per cent receive no income.
Research by Mori showed 45 per cent of people claiming severe hardship payments had slept rough and that one third of severe hardship claimants had either been thrown out of the family home or had been living with friends or relatives who could no longer support them. They also reported that 25 per cent of young women claiming hardship payments were pregnant and 22 per cent of claimants said they had been physically or sexually abused either by someone in the family or by staff at a children's home. A quarter of claimants in Mori's survey were classed as 'young offenders'.
The report claims that lack of benefits for 16 and 17-year-olds can lead to poverty and petty crime. 'Family poverty places a great strain on family relations and can result in pressure to turn young people out in order that the rest of the family can cope.'
It adds: 'Reports have shown a link between offending and lack of benefit entitlement. There is reason to be concerned about both young ex- offenders with few opportunities to obtain an income legally, as well as about young people in desperate circumstances with no previous record of offending.'
The report recommends that Income Support be restored to all young people who are actively seeking work or training, that the availability of severe hardship payments should be publicised and young people should be provided with a choice of suitable, good quality training.
Lucy Ball, director of Youthaid, said more than 80,000 young people had no job, no training place and no income. 'The implications are devastating both for young people and for the Government's ambitions to raise the skill levels of the national workforce.'