In Brief

British children facing Christmas homeless crisis

At least 130,000 youngsters will be living in temporary accommodation this festive season, a rise of 59% in five years

children_at_christmas.jpg

One in 103 children in the UK will be homeless at Christmas, the charity Shelter has claimed, revealing the scale of the housing crisis in Britain.

This equates to more than 131,000 children estimated to have no home, relying instead on temporary accommodation with friends and family or other lodgings.

Nearly 10,000 of those will wake up on Christmas Day in bed and breakfasts, hotels or hostels, where in many cases their family will have been put up in a single room, sharing bathrooms and kitchens with other residents.

“These are not places for children,” Shelter’s director, Greg Beales, told The Guardian.

“We hear about cold, damp – even rats. Young children are sharing beds with multiple family members, trying to play in dirty public corridors and having to leave their block in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.”

The overall figure is 50,000 more than in 2013, a rise of 59%, and means an average school in Britain now includes five homeless children.

The Guardian says “there have been particularly sharp increases in some affluent, high housing cost Tory heartlands in south-east England”, although it notes that there are very few instances of children rough sleeping.

In London, where the crisis is at its worst, there is an average of 28 homeless children for every school.

The capital, which is estimated to contain two-thirds of the country’s homeless children, has seen the numbers nearly double in the past five years. The borough of Westminster has been listed as the worst-affected area in the UK, where one in 11 children are homeless.

Shelter has warned that the analysis of government statistics show that the UK's housing crisis is now being “felt across a generation”.

Patrick Mulrenan, a senior lecturer in community development and leadership at London Metropolitan University, told CNN that homelessness particularly affects children, and “has a massive effect on their education”.

He blamed the long-term trend since 2010 of more people going into temporary accommodation on the failure to build enough affordable, long-term housing, particularly in London.

“There's also been some benefit changes which are making it very difficult for people to maintain their homes,” he said. “Back in the 1970s, you'd be shocked at someone sleeping on the street, and now people become immune to it.”

James Murray, deputy mayor for housing in London, said: “It is shameful that the Government has allowed homelessness to rise to these levels and it is heart-breaking that so many children are suffering the consequences.”

Last month, a report by the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, said the ideologically driven austerity policies of recent Conservative governments were partly responsible for a rapid rise in homelessness.

His conclusions echoed a report by the National Audit Office last year, which blamed the rise in rental costs and capping of housing benefits since 2011 for increasing homelessness across the country.

Shadow housing minister, John Healey, said: “It’s no surprise that homelessness is rising rapidly when the Conservatives have slashed investment in new affordable homes, refused to help private renters and made huge cuts to housing benefit and homelessness services.”

Heather Wheeler, the minister for homelessness, said: “No family should be left without a roof over their head, especially during the winter months, and we are working to ensure all children have a safe place to stay where they can thrive.

“Councils have a duty to provide temporary accommodation for families with nowhere to go, and we have been clear that they also have a duty to prevent homelessness in the first place. We’re providing more than £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, including amongst children, and introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act to ensure people at risk get help quicker.

“But we know we have more to do to tackle homelessness, and we will.”

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