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Children’s Commissioner: Government must help the 420,000 children in England at risk of eviction

Date:28 AUG 2020
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The Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, warned that hundreds of thousands of children will return to school in two weeks with the threat of housing eviction hanging over their families, unless the Government extends its ban on evictions. Her warning came as the Children's Commissioner's Office published a report showing the experiences of the thousands of children who had to live in B&Bs or temporary accommodation during the covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. The report highlights the damaging effects eviction and homelessness can have for vulnerable children.

Anne Longfield says: "Last year, my report Bleak Houses found that there were around 210,000 homeless children in England. This included 120,000 children being housed by their council in temporary accommodation. Temporary accommodation comes in many forms, but unfortunately it is often very poor quality. My team spoke to families living in homes that were cramped, noisy and sometimes unsafe. Children told us they lacked space to play or do homework, and some spoke of their fears when forced to share kitchens or bathrooms with adults engaged in crime, anti-social behaviour or with substance abuse issues. Since the publication of the Bleak Houses report, the world has been changed by Covid-19. Lockdown has impacted on all children, but at a time when so much of life is centred on the home, it has had stark implications for children who are homeless. As the crisis unfolded, I was particularly concerned about the prospect of children living through lockdown in B&Bs. As Bleak Houses showed, families placed by their council in B&Bs are often living in single rooms, and share kitchen and bathroom facilities with other households. I was worried that this would make it difficult for families to take protective measures and socially distance in the ways called for by Government guidance. It would also present real challenges to children who were unable to attend school and therefore needed to do schoolwork from their B&Bs. In March I wrote to senior civil servants at the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities and the Department for Education outlining these concerns."

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She continues: "The Government recognised the importance of a safe and stable home during the pandemic, by investing an unprecedented £105 million to get rough sleepers off the streets. But no similar national efforts were made to move vulnerable children into more appropriate accommodation, with decisions left in the hands of local authorities as to whether to stop using B&Bs to house homeless families during this time. To find out more about the local response to the crisis, I issued a data collection to the 15 local authorities with the highest numbers of children in B&B accommodation according to the most recent publicly available data. This research estimates that there were between 1,100 – 2,000 families in England in B&Bs on 23 March. We estimate this range has dropped to between 750 and 1,350 by the time full lockdown ended on 31 May. It is positive to see an overall reduction. In some cases we know that local authorities were already reducing the numbers of families in B&Bs before Covid-19 struck, while there are others who made deliberate efforts to move families out during lockdown. These councils show that reducing the number of families in B&Bs can be done, and it was the right thing to do. However, it is still very concerning that across England over 1,100 families may have spent part of lockdown in B&Bs, including, as the data in this report shows, as many as 550 families who lived there continually throughout the whole of lockdown. Furthermore, there was an increase in the proportion of families who had spent longer than 6 weeks in B&Bs between 23 March and 31 May, despite this being unlawful. 3 The impact on families of living through lockdown in a B&B cannot be underestimated. My team heard from one family who were terrified that their accommodation was also being used to house NHS workers who were shielding from their own families. Homeless children will need to be prioritised for extra support in the weeks and months to come, including tuition and other catch up help at school being funded by the Department for Education’s £1 billion catch-up programme.1 In the event of further lockdowns, the Government must instruct councils to move families out of B&Bs and provide the funding to enable them to do so. And more needs to be done to prevent a new wave of family homelessness over the next few months. There needs to be a package of support put in place to help families meet housing costs, as the eviction ban and furlough scheme come to the end. The Government’s actions to house rough sleepers have shown that homelessness need not be a fact of life. Now more than ever, bold action must be taken to stop children in England having to live in temporary accommodation like B&Bs."

You can read the full report here.