75,000 children in London in temporary accommodation

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Unite protest at Parliament againt the enormous increase in the cost of living

More than 75,000 children are stuck in temporary accommodation due to insufficient housebuilding and low benefits, new studies have concluded.

Reports from University College London and the Centre for London thinktank found that the cost of living crisis could increase homelessness in the capital.
The UCL review, led by Prof Sir Michael Marmot, said the inadequate level of social housing across London is affecting children’s physical and mental health and could permanently hinder their development.
Marmot said: ‘This is an unacceptable state of affairs as it blights children’s future permanently. Our homes provide the living environment that dictates our future health. We know that living in cold, damp and mouldy homes leads to lung damage in children and impairs their development.’
The Centre for London report ‘Temporary Accommodation: London’s hidden homelessness crisis’ says:
‘The risk of a household living in temporary accommodation in London is much higher than elsewhere in England.
59 per cent of all English households in temporary accommodation are in London: this represents 56,500 households, including 75,850 children.
This is not because of the decisions councils make but because of London’s high housing costs and shortages, and because the benefits people receive do not reflect these costs.
Councils need to find suitable temporary accommodation for households who are eligible and this is very difficult to find in London, due to the lack of affordable housing stock, and the fact that the benefits homeless households receive are in many cases not sufficient for local authorities to pay for temporary accommodation in London.
Temporary accommodation varies widely in both housing type and quality. For households in London, the best-case scenario is usually a flat close to their previous location. But living in some types of temporary accommodation – such as bed & breakfast facilities – can be grim.

  • Households usually have only one room for everyone (including children) to live in, with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities.
  • Families living in this type of accommodation say that it is very hard for children to play or do their homework in one room – and that they are sometimes scared to use the shared kitchens and bathrooms.

These and other observations suggest that it is impossible to separate the challenge of providing sufficient temporary accommodation from the challenge of providing enough “general needs” social and affordable housing for Londoners.
Most of our recommendations to improve this state of affairs are targeted at national government, which has the power and funding to change the temporary accommodation system.
There are also changes that some local authorities can make to improve the experience of homeless households.’
The report’s ‘strategic  recommendation’ states:

  • The government should set up a cross-departmental working group on temporary accommodation to look at supply issues, their cost to the public purse, and how they can be solved.

Preventing homelessness through the
welfare system

  • The government should increase the rate of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for all households, including those in temporary accommodation – and ensure that it increases in line with rental market inflation.
  • The government should raise or remove the benefit cap so that fewer people will need to use the temporary accommodation system.

Building more
affordable homes

  • The government should fund more “general needs” affordable properties.
  • In the meantime, the Mayor of London and national government should continue to subsidise local authorities and joint-borough initiatives to increase the supply of temporary accommodation.’

The report also notes: ‘Not everyone who becomes homeless ends up in temporary accommodation: the system is complex and can be confusing for people trying to navigate it. Moreover, some people who become homeless do not tell their local council – they may “sofa surf” with friends, sleep rough, or leave the country altogether.
People who present as homeless are only eligible for temporary accommodation if they are in “priority need” and not “intentionally homeless”.
In most cases they must also have a connection to the area – meaning that they either live, work, have family, or receive healthcare there. If they do not, they will be asked to apply to a council where they do.
Since people can have local connection to more than one council, this can lead to arguments with the council about where they have the greatest local connection. However, this stipulation does not apply to people fleeing domestic violence.
People who do not have British or Irish citizenship, settled status, refugee status, or indefinite leave to remain are not usually eligible for support.
There are exceptions: Ukrainian and Afghan refugees are eligible under specific government resettlement schemes.’
The report asks: ‘How many people in London become homeless, and how many use temporary accommodation?
The risk of a household in London becoming homeless in any given year is similar to that of households in most other parts of England.
An average of 1.8 households per thousand were assessed as homeless in London in every quarter from 2018 to 2021, compared to 1.5 in England on average and 2.3 in Greater Manchester.
However, the rate of households living in temporary accommodation in London is much higher: while 18 per cent of all English homeless households are in London, 59 per cent of all English households in temporary accommodation are in London.
This represents 56,500 households, including 75,850 children. This is more than the total number of children living in Newcastle upon Tyne.’
Why do people in London become homeless and need temporary
accommodation?
People can become homeless for a multitude of reasons: being forced out by their parents or families (a particular risk for LGBTQ+ young people), escaping domestic abuse, at the end of a relationship, or after the breakdown of a flat share.
However, the reasons that people cannot find another home are usually economic – they cannot find an affordable property because their income is too low compared to housing costs.
The reasons that people lose their homes have also changed over time.
In the 1990s a key trigger for homelessness was mortgage repossessions, which followed people falling into arrears on their mortgage payments.
This is now very rare. The most common trigger cause today is the ending of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy – either because the contract is not being renewed, or because the tenant receives a Section 21 notice, a so-called ‘no-fault eviction’.
13 per cent of households assessed as being owed prevention duty were facing homelessness after a ‘no-fault eviction’.
The underlying reasons that people cannot afford a home are twofold: people’s incomes are too low, and property prices are too high.
Households at risk of homelessness often require government support to meet their housing costs, despite a majority being in work (60 per cent of homeless households in London were in work according to 2017 figures).
A more generous benefits system would reduce the risk of households becoming homeless, and make it easier for them to move into permanent accommodation.
On the supply side, London has a chronic shortage of social housing, which is usually cheaper and more secure than housing in the private rented sector.
Households often wait many years for a social home to become available, and just under 300,000 London households were waiting for a social home in 2021.
As a result, many people have little choice but to rent privately. This can be very difficult: the average rent paid by private tenants in London is double that for England as a whole, at over £2,257 per month.
For most people at risk of homelessness, high house prices and the requirement for a large mortgage deposit make home ownership unrealistic.
While the benefits system was designed to help during times of need, it is ill-fitted in its current form to deliver the support needed by Londoners at risk of homelessness.
There are three key issues with the way the system currently works:

  • The five-week wait: Households applying for Universal Credit must wait for five weeks to receive their first payment after being declared eligible.

If they need the money urgently, they can apply for an advance payment – essentially a zero-interest loan to the household, deducted from their future payments over a year or two.
However, taking this loan effectively reduces the support people get over the medium term to below the levels that the government’s own assessment has established as the minimum for a household’s survival.

  • The LHA rate freeze: The second issue is the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate – the metric used to set the maximum rent covered by housing benefit … In 2011 the LHA rates were reduced to the bottom 30th percentile of rents, and year-on-year increases were tied to Consumer Price Inflation rather than the increase in rents in the area.

The government then froze LHA rates altogether between 2015 and 2020, so they decreased in real terms.
In 2020 the rates were restored to the bottom 30th percentile of rents, but they have since been frozen again, despite inflation reaching a 40-year high. However, LHA rates for temporary accommodation are different to those used for privately rented accommodation, and are still frozen to January 2011 levels – therefore bearing no relation to current prices on the private rental market.

  • The benefit cap: A limit on the total benefits a household can receive was introduced in 2013. The idea was that reducing income from benefits would incentivise people to seek income from work.

However, evidence suggests it had little effect on employment: only five out of every 100 affected households moved into work because of the cap.
While the benefit cap was first set at £26,000 a year – the average household income in the UK at the time – in late 2016 it was reduced to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere. The cap has never been increased to keep up with inflation.
Despite only representing 16 per cent of the English population, London accounted for 36 per cent of all capped households as of August 2021 – around 53,000 households.
The disproportionate impact of the cap on the capital reflects London’s much higher cost of living – which is particularly troubling since London already enjoys a more generous cap.
On average, capped households in London miss out on between £184 and £300 in benefits per month.
In today’s housing market, families with two or more children who are affected by the benefit cap can afford between 0.1 and 0.8 per cent of private rented properties in London with the current level of state support (this varies based on the number of children in the household).
For some households there is virtually no accommodation available in the city. And of course, properties at the bottom of the market will almost invariably be properties of the worst quality.