Melanie Onn: Three presents the government should deliver to families in temporary accommodation
For the 130,000 children in the UK who will wake up on Christmas Day without a home, the best gift they could receive is a secure tenancy, says Melanie Onn
Many of our fondest childhood memories will come from spending Christmas at home; enjoying the festive period with our family, putting up decorations around the home and cooking Christmas dinner in our kitchen.
But for 130,000 children across the country, this will not be possible. Instead, they and their families will spend the festive season in B&Bs, hostels and emergency accommodation. They will ‘celebrate’ without their own bathroom, kitchen and living space or the comforts of their own home.
Since 2011 we’ve seen the number in temporary accommodation increase year-on-year in England. For inner London boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster the number in temporary accommodation is truly at crisis point, with as many as one in 30 residents without a permanent home.
As more and more people end up in temporary accommodation, we’re seeing a squeeze on the quality of places available. The Still No Place Like Home report by the local government and social care ombudsman details cases of young children being put in unsuitable accommodation that is a risk to their health.
And these poor-quality homes are not coming cheap. Temporary accommodation costs are now a major part of local authorities’ balance books; £845m was spent in 2015-16 alone, with the cost per accommodated household running at nearly £12,000 per year.
There is a clear need to look at the standards and costs of the temporary accommodation that tens of thousands of families will spend Christmas in, but if we want to truly help those who are homeless, we need to understand why we are seeing so many turning to councils for help in the first place.
More than half of those accepted as homeless are single parent households who once upon a time would have had access to council housing and given a safe and secure home in which to raise their children, at an affordable rate.
But this has changed; more than 1 million people are now on council house waiting lists and those not considered to be sufficiently needy can face over a decade on a waiting list before being given access to a home.
As a result, we’re seeing many of those who would have been in council-provided homes just a few decades ago now turning to the private rented sector for accommodation.
Unlike the security of council housing, the private rented sector currently provides little security for tenants against rent rises, eviction and unscrupulous landlords.
Under current housing regulation, a private tenant can be the subject of punitive rent rises and evicted through no fault of their own with just two months’ notice.
This insecurity is devastating for those who are already vulnerable in society; for those on low wages it is nearly impossible to save up the money to pay the fees necessary to move to a new family home and discrimination against those receiving housing benefit makes it difficult for claimants to find a suitable home at such short notice.
It is little wonder that the loss of a private tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness and that more than half of those in temporary accommodation are in work.
To stop children spending Christmas in temporary accommodation, we need to solve the fundamental failings of our housing crisis that abandons families to homelessness. So here are three presents the government should deliver to families in temporary accommodation:
- Support a council house building revolution by giving all councils the support they need to build new homes.
- Stop the haemorrhaging of badly needed council homes by suspending right-to-buy.
- Stop punitive rent rises by bringing in a limit on how much rents can rise by and ending the threat of ‘no fault’ evictions.
If the government backed this new deal, it would truly be a Christmas miracle for homeless families.
Melanie Onn is Labour MP for Great Grimsby and shadow minister for housing