Homeless children growing up in shipping containers

A new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England has revealed how some homeless children are living in converted shipping containers and office blocks and B&Bs.

The report, Bleak houses: Tackling the crisis of family homelessness in England, shines a light on the thousands of children growing up in homeless families, arguing that the 124,000 children in England officially living in temporary accommodation does not include the hidden homeless who are ‘sofa-surfing’, often in very cramped conditions.

New analysis conducted for the Children’s Commissioner for England estimates that in 2016/17 there were 92,000 children living in sofa-surfing families. The report also warns that official figures fail to capture a small but highly vulnerable group of homeless children who have been placed in temporary accommodation by children’s services rather than by the council’s housing department.

The Children’s Commissioner is particularly concerned about the repurposing of shipping containers for use as temporary accommodation, the conversion of former office blocks and warehouses into temporary accommodation under permitted development rights which bypass planning regulations and the increasing use of B&Bs. The Children’s Commissioner says that this type of housing is not self-contained and often the bathroom is shared with other residents in the building, along with the kitchen. Of the 2,420 families known to be living in B&Bs in December 2018, a third had been there for more than six weeks, despite this being unlawful.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, commented: “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.”

Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s Housing spokesman, said: “Councils desperately want to find every family a good quality, secure home, and prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. However, the severe lack of social rented homes available in which to house families means councils have no choice but to place households into temporary accommodation, including – in emergencies - bed and breakfasts.

“With homelessness services facing a £159 million funding gap next year (2020/21), the Government needs to use the upcoming Spending Round to ensure councils have long-term sustainable funding to prevent homelessness, and give councils the tools they need to resume their historic role of building homes with the right infrastructure that the country needs. This includes allowing councils to keep 100 per cent of receipts of council homes sold under Right to Buy, so that they can be reinvested in new replacement homes, and the ability to set Right to Buy discounts locally.

“It should also scrap the permitted development right which is taking away the ability of local communities to shape the area they live in, ensure homes are built to high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place and have resulted in the potential loss of thousands of desperately-needed affordable homes.”

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