Record number of families in temporary housing

With record numbers of families housed in temporary accommodation, up to 300,000 children are enduring a "terrible start in life", missing out on essential schooling and medical care, the country's leading authority on child welfare warns today.

With record numbers of families housed in temporary accommodation, up to 300,000 children are enduring a "terrible start in life", missing out on essential schooling and medical care, the country's leading authority on child welfare warns today.

Lord Laming, the author of the official report into the death of Victoria Climbié, rounded on ministers as the number of families in homeless accommodation climbs to an all-time high. The intervention of Britain's leading authority is a grave embarrassment to a Government that boasts of its record on tackling child poverty.

"Since coming to power there has been a 123 per cent increase in the number of families who are in temporary accommodation," Lord Laming told the Independent on Sunday yesterday.

"Because it is only families who are eligible for this sort of accommodation we could well be talking about 300,000 children, the equivalent of the population of a city, who are having this terrible start to life. It is not their fault that they are homeless - they are victims, but because of their situation are in danger of missing out on basic health care or education."

Lord Laming pointed out his inquiry into the death of seven-year-old Victoria had recommended that social services always assess the suitability of temporary accommodation after he found she had been housed in an Ealing "rooming house" filled with drunks and drug addicts.

But he said he believed a significant number of children were still slipping through the net. "I am far from convinced that these children have the sort of access to services that they should or are being monitored as closely as they should," he said.

One minister admitted that the dramatic increase in the number of families housed in temporary accommodation was causing deep concern right at the top of the Government. "John Prescott was bursting a blood vessel about this at a meeting last week. Some of the criticism is unfair, for instance the definition of what counts as temporary accommodation has widened, but Laming has a point in that it is clearly far from ideal."

Officially, the Government insists that it is doing everything it can to eradicate the use of temporary accommodation. Lord Filkin, one of the ministers responsible, said new laws required housing authorities and social services to "focus on such children".

He added that the Government was committed to supplying 10,000 "affordable homes" for the next three years and that most temporary accommodation used was in self-contained flats.

The availability of social housing has become an increasingly fraught political issue in recent months as ministers squabble over whether "right-to-buy" legislation should be extended.

If more tenants are encouraged to buy their own homes the number of families housed in temporary accommodation is likely to soar.

A recent report by Shelter found that more than half of those sent to live in temporary accommodation said their health had suffered as a result, while children missed an average of 55 school days due to disruption.

Adam Sampson, the charity's director, called on the Government to dramatically increase its house-building programme.

Mr Prescott, challenged about the figures before Christmas, said: "One of the problems is that one million houses were taken out of social housing and the money wasn't used to build alternative housing. I inherited a total mess."

THE EVICTED FAMILY

Alison Green, is living with her three children in a homeless unit in Runcorn, Chester, after being evicted from her three-bedroom house for falling behind with her rent.

"I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when I was evicted. I went to a homeless charity and the following day the council placed me in a privately run B&B. It was impossible to feed my two on the income support I was on - £72.40 per week plus the £46.85 child allowance. We lived off toast most of the time. Every day was like bedlam.

"After four weeks I went into labour. While in hospital, my baby got MRSA and I was sick with worry about where I was going to have to bring her next. After a week I was discharged and moved to a new, better homelessness unit while the council decided whether I was unintentionally homeless.

"It's supposed to take 28 days, but they took eight weeks. If they decided I was intentionally homeless I would have been out on my ear. The stress was unbelievable - I was beside myself with worry about my kids.

"They finally found that I was unintentionally homeless and we have been made a priority case and are on the waiting list for a council house. But they say it's impossible to know how long we'll have to wait.

"This has all had a terrible effect on my kids. They are not themselves at all. I've had to be put on anti-depressants because of the worry. The way we have been treated is disgusting. My children were put at risk and left far more vulnerable than they needed to be."

Helen McCormack

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