Fifty years since Shelter was first founded, the country is once again in the grip of a housing crisis. If there’s one thing that sums up the situation, it’s the fact that 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. This is the equivalent of four children at every school.
This is a 15% rise from last year. Child homelessness is increasing in the UK, and we need urgent action to prevent things getting worse. That’s why we’re campaigning for Theresa May to make ending homelessness a priority for her new government.
You may not have realised child homelessness was this high, because you won’t see children on the streets. And because they are out of sight, most people have no idea of their appalling, unsafe living conditions.
Councils have a duty to find children that have nowhere to live somewhere to sleep. However, the housing shortage forces them to place more and more homeless families into insecure and inappropriate emergency accommodation. This can be anything from cramped bed and breakfasts to hostels; places where families might have no cooking facilities. They could be squashed into a single room, and sharing a bathroom with dozens of strangers.
While children in emergency accommodation might have a roof over their heads, they are clearly without a home. They do not have the space to live their lives – to play, study, or relax. Nor a place of stability and safety where they can grow and develop.
What will Christmas be like this year?
We spoke to twenty five homeless families about their living situation, how it impacts their day to day life, and the effect it’s having on their children.
All of the families lived in a room with fewer bed spaces than people. The majority of parents had to share beds with their children. Their room had to accommodate the family and their beds as well as their possessions:
‘It’s so cramped, it’s so humid. We’re basically all on top of each other. I can’t buy butter because it melts. I can’t get milk because it curdles during the day. I have nothing. I’ve tried to put cold water in the sink but, because it’s like 32 degrees in here, it curdles straight away.’
Families highlighted how unsuitable it was to live this way compared to accepted standards:
‘You know they say a brother and a sister can’t share [a bed] past 11 [years], but [daughter] shares with three boys and their mum.’
Not only were the rooms small, but most families said their room was in poor condition. Examples of disrepair ranged from dirty or broken mattresses and beds to sparking electrical sockets, mould, and windows that wouldn’t close. This made it even harder to spend time in, relax or sleep in the room. It also made them fear for their children’s safety.
‘The door was without any locks. I could open it without the key. There was no lock, there was just a hole. So I opened up the door to the room if you could call it that, for me it looked like a squat. Mice. There was no light in there.
My son was terrified, he was like “Mummy let’s go, come back home”. What should I say to him? We didn’t have any home, at that date. “Please mummy I’m scared”, that’s what he said.’
Make no mistake. They might be out of sight, but these children bear the brunt of Britain’s housing crisis. You can do something though– help give them the security they deserve.
Why are there homeless children?
Homelessness is mainly due to a huge lack of affordable homes combined with instability and high costs in the private rented sector, and inadequate social security support.
Only half of the 250,000 homes we need each year are built – and the majority of these are sold at market rates. The shrinking social rented sector and increasing property prices are pushing more and more families into the unstable and unaffordable private rented sector.
Families in the private rented sector can be asked to move out with just two months’ notice, and many of them just aren’t able to find an affordable place to go in that time. High demand for rented homes means rent costs have flown upwards, which cause problems for families on lower incomes. Furthermore, many people just don’t have the large amounts of cash needed to pay up-front costs like letting agent fees, tenancy deposits and rent in advance.
Meanwhile, social security reforms such as lowering the benefit cap and freezing Local Housing Allowance rates, have removed the help that families on low incomes rely on to avoid homelessness while they look for work or a cheaper home. Discrimination in the private rented sector is also a problem, with landlords refusing to accept housing benefit, even if a household is working, and being reluctant to let to families with children or people perceived to be immigrants.
All of this is fixable though.
What can fix this?
There are two things you can do right now to help fix this problem:
- Join our campaign to call on the government to make ending homelessness a priority, and stop the number of homeless children rising before next Christmas.
- Support our services. As the number of homeless children grows, so does the need for our services. Our expert advisers work with homeless families to try and stop them becoming homeless in the first place, and our help often makes the difference between a family losing their home or not.
If the worst happens, we fight so they can find and settle into a secure place to live. Somewhere they can start their life again. As one parent told us:
‘Ian helped me through a lot. He was just there for me… he really did help… from the minute I first spoke to him to the last session… If I hadn’t gone to Shelter I think we’d still be in a B&B.’
120,000 children shouldn’t be homeless – let alone at Christmas.
We’re fighting to make sure they aren’t. Please give generously.