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Ministers warned of homelessness 'scandal' as children forced to live in shipping containers and office blocks

Ministers warned of homelessness 'scandal' as children forced to live in shipping containers and office blocks
4 min read

Ministers have been warned of a homelessness "scandal" as a new report estimated that as many as 210,000 children have no permanent place to live - with some forced to make shipping containers their home.

New research from Children's Commissioner for England Anne Longfield warned that a growing number of kids are being housed in bed and breakfasts, office blocks and even the sea-bound storage units amid a sharp spike in the use of temporary accomodation by councils struggling to find permanent homes for people.

The Commissioner - an official role set up to hold ministers to account for the treatment of children - warned that the Government's own figures on homelessness among children may be an underestimate, and said both a "lack of affordable housing and welfare reform" have contributed the problem.

The Government's own figures show that some 62,000 homeless families were living in temporary accomodation across England at the end of 2018 - including 124,000 children.

That represents an 80% rise in the number of children classed a living in temporary accomodation since 2010.

But the report said that total may be an underestimate of the true number of homeless children in England, with research carried out for the Commissioner warning that 92,000 more children are currently living in "sofa surfing" families, "staying with friends or family, often in cramped conditions".

The Commission found that some councils - including Brighton, Cardiff, Ealing and Bristol - have resorted to using shipping containers to temporarily house families on sites earmarked for future developments.

"The containers become very hot in summer - one mother told us she had to sleep with the front door wide open and that her baby got heat rash - but are too cold in the winter," the report said.

"They are often not properly designed with children in mind. Ovens and other dangers can be too close to the ground so that they are in reach of very young children."

Research carried out for the Commissioner also suggested that around 375,000 more children are living in households at risk of becoming homeless because they have fallen behind on their rent or mortgage payments.

Others are living in office block conversions, a "more recent and deeply worrying development", according to the Commissioner, with some families confined to single rooms "as little as 18 square metres" in size.


Launching the report, Ms Longfield said: "Most incidents of family homelessness in England are not the result of personal circumstances like mental health problems – primarily it is a result of structural issues, including the lack of affordable housing and welfare reform.

The Commissioner added: "There is very little these families can do to escape the cycle of homelessness without outside help. The children growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and converted office blocks have a right to a decent home to grow up in. In this prosperous country of ours, it is a scandal that many thousands of children are growing up without one."

The report was seized on by Labour, with Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey saying: "No child should be facing school again this September with no home to live in.

"The number of homeless children has gone up every year since 2010 and the Commissioner's stark warning that over 200,000 children now have no home should make Ministers hang their heads in shame."

But a Government spokesperson said ministers were acting to address the problem.

They 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 advisors which has, in two years, helped LAs to reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation for more than six weeks by 28%."

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government meanwhile said it had pledged £19.5m earlier this year for 54 new projects aimed at helping "thousands of households to be supported away from temporary accommodation and into long term private rented accommodation".

They said the number of households in temporary accomodation was still below its 2014 peak.

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