The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, has recently published a report: “No way out: children stuck in B&Bs during lockdown”, based on data collected from the 15 local authorities in England with the highest number of families with children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation (“B&Bs”) during the Covid-19 lockdown, including Birmingham, the London Borough of Ealing and Manchester. The data taken from these 15 authorities was used to extrapolate estimated figures for the total numbers of families living in B&Bs in the whole of England.
The report paints a grim picture of the problems faced by the 120,000 children estimated to be living in B&Bs in England, which were amplified by the restrictions imposed during the lockdown:
- living in overcrowded and cramped conditions, with families often occupying a single room, with nowhere safe for their children to play;
- having to share bathroom and kitchen facilities with strangers (including vulnerable adults housed by the local authority in the same B&Bs, with mental health and drug issues);
- struggling to do their schoolwork in unsuitable conditions, putting them at a disadvantage to their peers;
- with reduced contact with adults in a position to provide them with support, including health visitors, social workers and teachers
As Ms Longfield put it: “at a time when homeless families in B&Bs needed more support than ever….they were actually getting less.”
The report estimates that a further 420,000 children in England are living in families who are at risk of being evicted from their homes. This is based on the estimated number of families with children in May 2020 who were in arrears with their rent, with a further 640,000 children estimated to be living in rented accommodation in families who have exhausted their savings and credit facilities in order to make ends meet who are at risk of ending up in rent arrears. These figures were obtained from a large representative survey of UK households.
Ms Longfield contrasts the 105 million provided by the Government to get rough sleepers off the streets with the lack of additional funding to enable local authorities to move vulnerable children and their families out of B&Bs into decent accommodation. She recommends that the Government should provide significant funding and support to local authorities so they can move families out of B&Bs.
Her report also recommends that the Government should extend the temporary ban on evictions after August 2020, to avoid the number of families being made homeless increasing significantly later this year. So far the ban has been extended by another 4 weeks only. The Government has also announced its intention to give tenants greater protection over the winter months by requiring landlords to give 6 months’ notice to most tenants.
The report makes further recommendations including that the Government should further increase Local Housing Allowance rates, end the 5 week wait for Universal Credit and provide a package of support to help families meet housing costs, to coincide with the end of the eviction ban (in September 2020) and furlough scheme (in October 2020).
It also recommends that schools should help identify homeless children living in poor or overcrowded accommodation during lockdown by closely monitoring their attendance and behaviour. Also that NHS services should prioritise homeless children for access to mental and physical health support, including monitoring by health visitor visits and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). These children should also be given priority to catch up at school, funded by the Government’s £1 billion catch-up support package.
As Ms Longfield says in her report: “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.”
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