Unless government acts, the brutal experiences of people made homeless will only get worse
Local councils are unequipped to cope with and pay for the housing required, writes Karen Buck MP. | PA Images
Harsh conditions in temporary accommodation are making people feel they are being punished for finding themselves homeless
‘I feel like I am being punished’. The words of a desperate mother made homeless after experiencing domestic violence and placed in Temporary Accommodation.
There were 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June, including 127,240 children. The mother was found a private flat by the council, somewhat misleadingly described as ‘temporary’ even though she has been in this limbo for 7 years already. The properties she has been placed in are expensive. They are also insecure.
Families like hers are forced to move constantly, not just within the local area but across the city and beyond. Regardless of the schools their children attend and largely regardless of their personal needs. A heavily pregnant constituent who is registered blind was placed first in North London in a property with multiple stairs, then in East London, expected to navigate totally unfamiliar surroundings. A family with two blind young adult children attending college was told they simply had to learn new routes when they were sent to the other side of London.
We need greater protection for tenants, proper funding to cover rents and to support councils in their duties, and investment in social housing
What is almost beyond belief are the conditions so many homeless people are forced to endure. This same mother wrote a few weeks ago to inform me the property is a shambles with mice, rats and damp and mould throughout.
Her living situation has likely contributed to the postnatal depression she now suffers from. The damp in the property is affecting her eldest sons asthma and has grown so bad she is now sleeping with her baby on the floor in the front room. Tragically, this has created new problems, as her new-born is having problems breathing.
Another wrote to express their shock that the council could give properties to people in this state. One resident was given a flat on the other side of London, having just given birth, despite having explained that her support system lived local to her previous accommodation. This is extremely concerning, as she suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
She said: “I’m sitting in the living room on the first night, nursing my newborn when suddenly there is leaking from the ceiling and water is falling fast. The next day a contractor comes and tells me that if he hadn’t come today the ceiling would have collapsed on me!”
These, and dozens of cases like them, are happening even as the pandemic has been raging. No wonder those affected feel they are being punished for finding themselves homeless.
The harshness of the system, and the conditions so many are exposed to are almost beyond imagining. Meanwhile homelessness is rising every year, as has been year on year since 2011. Local councils are unequipped to cope with and pay for the housing required. Only two thirds of the total – 62,670 households – were placed in temporary accommodation by London local authorities. Even prior to Covid-19, London boroughs' expenditure on homelessness was expected to rise to a total of £1 billion by 2021/22. A rise of 9% in a year and 78% in five years.
Research carried out by Shelter shows that 86% of this money is flowing directly to private providers, most of whom are unregulated. We need greater protection for tenants, proper funding to cover rents and to support councils in their duties, and investment in social housing.
Unless the government acts, the brutal experiences being endured by my constituents will only continue to get worse and more widespread.
Karen Buck is the Labour MP for Westminster North.