At Shelter we regularly speak out about the appalling conditions families in temporary accommodation can find themselves living in. We hear all too often of how hard it is to maintain normal family life when living in one room in a B&B. Our colleagues at Children’s Rights Alliance have launched a new campaign, giving children a voice to share their experiences of homelessness and calling for change. Guest blogger Maria Stephens explains:
Thousands of children in England are growing up without a real home. Increasing numbers of families are being forced to live in temporary accommodation like Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) for extended periods where conditions are often unsafe and unsuitable for children. This is why, at the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), our new Change It! campaign supports children and young people to have their voices heard and take action on this important issue. The children we work with want to see an end to families with children being forced to live in B&Bs for longer than the 6 week legal limit and so do we.
Change It! is led by a steering group of 26 children aged eight to 20 years old, from all over England. Many have faced homelessness and spent months, or even years, growing up in B&Bs or other types of temporary accommodation. Because they’ve been there, they know that a B&B isn’t a good enough place for a child to grow up and that’s what’s motivated them to set up this campaign and encourage other children and young people to speak out and stand up for their rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear that children have the right to a decent place to live.
The campaign grew out of our 2015 See it, Say it, Change it project. We supported a steering group of children and young people from marginalised groups who often don’t have their voices heard to research and write a report about how well children’s rights in England were being respected. The report was submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as part of its examination of how well the UK was meeting its child rights obligations.
Research for the report, which engaged with nearly 1,000 children nationally, included speaking to young children who had been living in B&Bs, often for much longer than the six week legal limit. They told us about shocking conditions: cold, unclean rooms infested with rats; filthy bathrooms they had to share with adults they didn’t know; no place to play or do homework. Growing up in a place like this damages children’s physical and mental health as well as educational outcomes.
Some members of the project steering group had themselves spent significant periods of their childhood in B&Bs. Renee, now 17, was 14 when she and her family were made homeless: “I had this impression that being in a B&B is going to be like a hotel, but when I got there it was just a shock. We had one room. It had a bunk bed, a double and a single for all of us. …. It was really difficult to find my own space to do my homework.”
The UN Committee released its verdict on the UKs children’s rights record in June 2016. It said that the Government needed to stop housing children in poor quality, temporary accommodation for long periods of time – an issue which had been highlighted in the children’s report. Despite this, the numbers of homeless families are rising year-on-year: in 2015 38,040 families with children were homeless, an increase of two thirds from the 23,850 in 2009; in 2016 3,390 families with children were living in B&Bs, more than double the number at the end of 2013 (1,560). In 2016 over a third of families housed in B&Bs lived there for longer than six weeks, 1,300 in total.
Children who are homeless are an invisible group often ignored when decisions are made by politicians, civil servants and officials in local areas about the kind of housing they should live in. Our campaign will give children and young people a voice and stop the problems faced by homeless children being hidden behind closed doors. Most of all the children and young people want action to stop children’s lives being blighted by not having a proper place to call home. We are calling for:
- Better financial support for children and their families to prevent them becoming homeless in the first place
- The Local Government Ombudsman to take action to stop local authorities using B&Bs for children and their families for longer than six weeks
- Local authorities to ensure all temporary accommodation is of decent quality so that children can grow and develop healthily
- Increased funding from central Government to help local authorities who have large numbers of homeless children and families to provide better, more secure accommodation
- Local authorities to use current resources more wisely so there are more secure homes of better quality instead of on expensive, inadequate, temporary housing.
- The building of more decent affordable housing for families with children
Change It! needs children and young people to get involved in the campaign. It’s a fantastic opportunity for anyone under 18 to learn new skills, gain knowledge and have your voice heard by people in power. Children and young people’s voices are a powerful force for change so if you are working with under 18s then please have a look at our brand new campaign pack for ideas on how they can get involved and encourage them to sign up to join the campaign.
If you have any questions or would like to talk to us about the campaign then please do get in touch.
Participation Manager, CRAE