Thousands of homeless children are growing up in cramped and unsuitable temporary accommodation because of sky-high rents and an “unforgiving welfare system”, according to a damning new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England.
The report, titled ‘Bleak houses: Tackling the crisis of family homelessness in England’, exposes the shocking conditions many homeless children and their families are forced to endure.
While official statistics show that 124,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation, it does not include thousands of so-called ‘hidden homeless’, including those who are sleeping on friend’s sofas.
New analysis conducted for the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, estimates that in 2016/17 there were 92,000 children living in ‘sofa-surfing’ families.
The report suggests that in 2017 around 4 in 10 children (51,000) homeless children were living in temporary accommodation for at least six months, while around 6,000 children had spent at least a year living in these conditions.
Furthermore, around 375,000 children are from households who have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, placing them at an increased risk of homelessness.
Anne Longfield also warns that a shortage in genuine affordable homes means that children are often spending years living in temporary housing while they wait for a permanent home to become available.
She added that shipping containers are being repurposed to provide temporary accommodation for homeless families, while others are trapped in office blocks and B&B’s.
The converted shipping containers are typically small and cramped, and can often be too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
Living in temporary accommodation can have a devastating impact on a child’s health and well-being, and is known to be harmful to a child’s development and education.
Anne Longfield said: “Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks.
“Children have told us of the disruptive and at times frightening impact this can have on their lives. It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time, or to sofa surf.
“It is essential that the Government invests properly in a major house-building programme and that it sets itself a formal target to reduce the number of children in temporary accommodation.”
Simone Vibert, Senior Policy Analyst at the Children’s Commissioner’s Office, and author of the report, added:
“Trapped by increasing rents and an unforgiving welfare system, there is very little many families can do to break the cycle of homelessness once it begins.
“Preventing homelessness from happening in the first place is crucial. Yet government statistics fail to capture the hundreds of thousands of children living in families who are behind on their rent and mortgage repayments.
“Frontline professionals working with children and families need greater training to spot the early signs of homelessness and councils urgently need to know what money will be available for them when current funds run out next year.”
A government spokesperson said: “No child should ever be without a roof over their head and we are working to ensure all families have a safe place to stay.
“If anyone believes they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation, we urge them to exercise their right to request a review.
“We have invested £1.2bn to tackle all types of homelessness, including funding a team of specialist advisers who have, in two years, helped local authorities to reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation for more than six weeks by 28%.”