Ministers come under pressure from Tories over plight of England's 130,000 homeless children

A shortage of affordable housing has left 130,000 children homeless in England this Christmas an increase of 128 per cent in the past decade, according to research by the shadow housing minister Grant Shapps.

The number of families with children forced to live in hostels or "sofa surfing" while waiting for a home is at worryingly high levels, say the Conservatives.

The Tories claim the impact of homelessness on children goes beyond the misery of not having a permanent roof above their heads, making them far more likely to suffer from medical and social problems.

In a paper published today, Mr Shapps adds that the "social failure" of child homelessness is often followed by mental, physical and educational disadvantage. A homeless child is twice as likely to be admitted to an Accident & Emergency department, four times as likely to have respiratory infections and six times as likely to suffer speech impediments, as a child with a fixed address.

The report proposes urgent measures to alleviate a trend the Tories claim may be about to get worse.

The Government pointed out last night that the number of households in temporary accommodation, hostels and b&bs is falling since the figure peaked at 101,300 in 2004.

"We recognise more needs to be done on this issue but we are improving our performance," said a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government. "We are going to provide local authorities with 150m over the next three years to tackle homelessness."

But Mr Shapps said: "For 130,000 homeless children in England, this Christmas is unlikely to be much fun. Lack of permanent accommodation can have an absolutely devastating impact on a child's health and development.

"This report calls on the Government to apply greater focus to the complex reasons that lead to homelessness and to recognise that homeless children will face special challenges which will outstretch their time in temporary and unsuitable accommodation."

Tim Nicholls, director of the homeless charity the Simon Community, welcomed the report and its conclusions, saying: "What children need is a stable, healthy environment with people who love them, but also where they aren't constantly moving from one piece of low-quality housing to another, or have the threat of that hanging over them, because the housing stock in the UK is so desperately limited."

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