Thousands of families are being forced into “unhabitable” temporary accommodation, according to a report which accused the government of failing to stop “appalling abuses” of children’s human rights.
Some children were forced to sleep four in a bed in tiny flats, while others suffered health problems due to their living conditions.
“The government needs to urgently address this hidden aspect of the housing crisis by reducing reliance on temporary accommodation and tackling the issue of housing unfit for families to live in,” said Alex Firth, senior coordinator at Human Rights Watch.
Since 2011, there has been a 65 per cent increase in the number of families living in temporary accommodation with the 70 per cent of those living in London.
As of October 2021, 42,290 households with children were living in temporary accommodation in London with conditions that violate adequate housing and living rights, according to Human Rights Watch.
Despite this, the charity reported that local authorities received 37 per cent less funding from the government between 2009-10 and 2018-19, with London facing the biggest cuts.
Between May and October 2021, interviews with those who were living in or had recently left temporary accommodation across London found families were living in studio flats and were developing a multitude of health problems as a result of conditions.
In the borough of Lambeth, a pregnant mother of three, Amaka L., said she lived in a studio flat for six months and had to share a double bed with her children all aged under 10. She said the situation worsened when the pandemic started.
Amaka said: “It was very, very hard for me in that small flat. The council just put me there and left me. When Covid started, I saw hell.”
In Croydon, Layla W. and her four daughters - aged six to 26 – said they were placed in a house with toxic mould between 2017 and 2019 by Southwark Council. Layla’s youngest daughter, Israa, was six-years-old when she moved into the house and developed respiratory issues and asthma when living there.
Layla said Israa’s bedroom was “the worst room in the entire house, it was unimaginable,” and that the child later needed an operation to assist with her irregular breathing.
In Wandsworth, Jada T., a 15-year-old girl who lived in a metal container apartment block between 2018 and 2020, described cracks in her bedroom wall that let in cold temperatures during winter.
She said she was diagnosed with pneumonia and her mother sent her to live with family outside of London in October 2018 so she could recover, causing her to miss two months of school.
The situation was worsened by the Covid pandemic as school closures meant many children living in temporary accommodation struggled to keep up with online schooling. A lack of wi-fi connection and quiet working conditions contributed to the “digital divide” between those with and without stable internet connection.
Lack of safe areas for children and teenagers to play and take part in recreational activities was also highlighted by Human Rights Watch, as was a lack of support by local authorities. Families said there were little to no inspections of accommodation, even when requested, and very little social housing available for those in need in London and across the UK.
International laws are supposed to guarantee the right to adequate housing and standards of living.
But Laurence Guinness, chief executive of the Childhood Trust, said: “Successive governments have utterly failed to fix the housing crisis.”
“Children are suffering appalling abuses of their rights with devastating consequences for their health, education, and life chances. This report is a wake-up call to the government that this abuse has to stop.”
A spokesperson for the government’s Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “All children deserve to live in a safe and decent home, and we’re strengthening councils’ enforcement powers to tackle overcrowding and reduce social housing waiting lists, which have fallen by 57 per cent in London since 2010.
“More than 119,000 affordable homes have been delivered in the capital over the past 10 years, with a further £4bn allocated to London to deliver 35,000 homes over the next five years.
“We are driving down the need for temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness before it occurs, with over £2bn committed to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years.”
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