Last year, our report Bleak Houses found that there were around 210,000 homeless children in England. This included 120,000 children being housed by their council in temporary accommodation.
Temporary accommodation comes in many forms, but unfortunately it is often very poor quality. My team spoke to families living in homes that were cramped, noisy and sometimes unsafe. Children told us they lacked space to play or do homework, and some spoke of their fears when forced to share kitchens or bathrooms with adults engaged in crime, anti-social behaviour or with substance abuse issues.
Since the publication of the Bleak Houses report, the world has been changed by Covid-19. Lockdown has impacted on all children, but at a time when so much of life is centred on the home, it has had stark implications for children who are homeless.
As the crisis unfolded, I was particularly concerned about the prospect of children living through lockdown in B&Bs. As Bleak Houses showed, families placed by their council in B&Bs are often living in single rooms, and share kitchen and bathroom facilities with other households. I was worried that this would make it difficult for families to take protective measures and socially distance in the ways called for by Government guidance. It would also present real challenges to children who were unable to attend school and therefore needed to do schoolwork from their B&Bs. In March I wrote to senior civil servants at the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities and the Department for Education outlining these concerns.
The Government recognised the importance of a safe and stable home during the pandemic, by investing an unprecedented £105 million to get rough sleepers off the streets. But no similar national efforts were made to move vulnerable children into more appropriate accommodation, with decisions left in the hands of local authorities as to whether to stop using B&Bs to house homeless families during this time.
To find out more about the local response to the crisis, I issued a data collection to the 15 local authorities with the highest numbers of children in B&B accommodation according to the most recent publicly available data.