Hundreds of thousands of children are set to return to school in September two weeks with the threat of housing eviction hanging over their families, the children’s commissioner for England has warned.
Anne Longfield has published a new report revealing the experiences of the thousands of children who had to live in Bed and Breakfast temporary accommodation during the covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. She warns that unless the government changes its mind and extends its ban on evictions, children will to school facing uncertainty over their home.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said: “Children are returning to school in a couple of weeks and for most it will be the first time in the classroom for six months. They have made huge sacrifices and need certainty and stability. The economic downturn though means hundreds of thousands of these children could be a risk of eviction with their families.
“The government did the right thing in March by banning evictions. In the current uncertain climate, I urge Ministers to think again and continue this policy which has brought reassurance to so many families and children.
The report estimates that 420,000 children in England are in families that are at risk of being evicted, based on the estimated number of families with children who were in rent arrears in May, and obtained from a large representative survey of UK households. The same survey shows that a further 640,000 children are in renting families which have been using up their savings or borrowing more in order to make ends meet – these families will be at risk of ending up in rent arrears later on.
The commissioner collected data from the 15 local authorities with the highest numbers of children in B&B accommodation. When lockdown began on March 23rd, there were 714 families housed in B&Bs across the 15 local authorities. Birmingham, Ealing and Manchester had more than 100 families living in B&Bs when lockdown began. However, 10 of the 15 local authorities saw a reduction in the number of families housed in B&Bs between 23 March and 31 May, the end of lockdown.
Across the 15 local authorities, 265 families with children were in living in a B&B at the end of lockdown on 31 May and had been living there for at least six weeks – despite this being unlawful. The report suggests that the figure for England as a whole is probably between 400 and 760 families. Across the 15 local authorities, the proportion of families who had been in B&Bs for at least six weeks increased from 43% to 56% during lockdown.
Across the 15 local authorities, 193 families with children spent the two months of lockdown living in a B&B. The report estimates that across England as a whole, this figure is likely to between 290 and 550 families.
Families living in B&Bs in lockdown will have faced many challenges:
- It is likely children found it harder to complete schoolwork
- Some families would have been in locations that made playing outside or going out to shops difficult
- Some children would be sharing the building, and even kitchen and bathroom facilities, with vulnerable adults also being housed by the council.
Many homeless families in B&Bs also have multiple vulnerabilities and need support from a range of services including health and social care services and social care in some cases. Teachers often play a key role in identifying problems, however, many children were not at school and support services were significantly stripped back during lockdown, reducing contact between homeless families and the professionals that normally protect them.
Between February and mid-June, one family reported moving 11 times between different Travelodge hotels far from each other, back and forth, as the council continually forgot to prolong their stay. During their time in lockdown, the family did not go anywhere, they had no free internet, no washing facilities, no cooking facilities and had to live off costly takeaways. Hospital workers were staying in the Travelodge shielding from their own families because they were at high risk of catching Covid-19, so the family didn’t feel safe.
The children’s commissioner warns that there is a clear risk that the number of families made homeless will increase significantly later this year. A ban on evictions has so far protected these families from losing their homes, but it is about to expire and Ms Longfield urges the government should change its mind and extend the ban on evictions.
The report makes further recommendations
- In anticipation of further local lockdowns and a possible second spike, the government should provide significant funding and support to local authorities to immediately move families out of B&Bs.
- For the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, all homeless families should only be placed in suitably sized, self-contained accommodation with private kitchen and bathroom facilities.
- To stop council homelessness services from being overwhelmed and avoid children being forced into inappropriate accommodation, the government should provide a package of support to help families meet housing costs.
- Schools should help identify homeless children living in poor quality or overcrowded accommodation during lockdown by closely monitoring their attendance and behaviour, and whether they need extra pastoral support.
- NHS services should prioritise homeless children for access to mental and physical health support.
- The government should closely monitor whether any councils continue to house children in B&Bs and take action against those that continue to do so – especially where children have been placed there unlawfully for longer than six weeks.
- The government should collect data on the numbers of children housed in B&Bs by social services, rather than under housing legislation, and those accommodated in council-owned B&Bs.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said: “The report I am publishing shows how homelessness can lead to families living in B&Bs. No child should have to spend time growing up in a cramped room, unable to do school work, sharing bathrooms with adults they don’t know and cut off from family and friends.
“The government and councils showed they could tackle rough sleeping and take bold decisions on evictions in a time of national emergency. That emergency is not yet over for hundreds of thousands of children at risk of eviction, and now is not the time to withdraw this vital safety net,” she concluded.
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