11 Feb 2014

One young woman’s plea to keep benefits for the under-25s

This is the story of Poppy Noor, a young woman who says she only made it to Cambridge because she got benefits.

Sometimes I think there are two Poppy Noors. The first wasn’t supposed to make it. The second was destined for greatness.

In Poppy’s first incarnation, she was homeless at 16. There were many things in her life which made it unstable and dangerous for her at home and she says she had no option but to leave. And so the state stepped in.

Poppy moved through six different hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation. Sometimes it was scary, thrown in amongst the mentally ill and very vulnerable.

Sometimes it was just exhausting and humiliating, with days often spent shuttling between the homelessness advice centre and lessons, trying to make sure her benefits didn’t stop. Not only did they pay for rent and food, most crucially they allowed her to stay on at school.

She doesn’t want the ladder kicked away from others like her.

Because Poppy is clever (and while it took some persuading for her to believe it), she was lucky enough to have a group of teachers used to nurturing children with profoundly challenging backgrounds. Ready to engineer an escape route for her, they made sure Poppy wasn’t going to be homeless again. She was going to work hard and go to Cambridge.

Read more: why are we worse off than our parents?

It’s not hard to see Poppy’s life so far as a bittersweet movie; the evenings spent trying to write essays on a hostel’s shared computer while older men looked on, the camaraderie and rebellions of the hostel girls, Poppy’s determination to succeed once the seemingly impossible happened and she got her offer from Trinity College.

But Poppy’s pretty sober about it all. As far as she’s concerned, a system of financial and structural support kicked in, as a collection of dedicated women – at the council and at school – and a strict regime of curfews at the hostels – kept her on track and safe.

And that’s why Poppy’s decided to tell her story on Channel 4 News tonight. She says she doesn’t want the ladder kicked away from others like her – the under-25s who have nowhere else to go. Because in Poppy Noor’s second incarnation she lived in the grounds of a prestigious seventeenth century university and got a degree – and she now works in local government in London.