Number of single homeless mothers soars to highest level since financial crash

Exclusive: Research by housing charity Shelter exclusively seen by The Independent shows number of female single parents found to be homeless has risen to more than 26,000

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Saturday 13 October 2018 11:21 BST
Single mothers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society due to the fact they are vulnerable to welfare cuts and often work in precarious low-paid jobs which are often restricted by childcare responsibilities
Single mothers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society due to the fact they are vulnerable to welfare cuts and often work in precarious low-paid jobs which are often restricted by childcare responsibilities (Getty)

The number of female single parents found to be homeless has risen by 48 per cent in the last eight years.

Research by housing charity Shelter ahead of World Homelessness Day on Wednesday shows that since 2009-10, their numbers have increased from 17,950 to 26,610 households. This is 7 per cent higher than the overall amount of people made homeless during the same time period, which rose by 41 per cent.

The number of female single parent households has not been as high since the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, when 28,360 were struggling to find permanent accommodation.

Homeless people are statistically classed by the government as people with no fixed abode. While not necessarily on the street, they could be living in temporary accommodation or with friends and family.

Legally someone is defined as being homeless if they do not have a legal right to occupy accommodation, or if their accommodation is unsuitable to live in. Local councils have a legal duty to provide advice and assistance to people who are legally defined as homeless or threatened with homelessness.

Single mothers are disproportionately affected as the new data suggests they are eight times more likely to become homeless than couples with children. Last year, one in every 55 female single parent families became homeless.

In total, 92 per cent of all single parent families are headed by mothers, although they only make up 22 per cent of families in the general population.

But in England, 66 per cent of all the families accepted as homeless are single female parents with dependent children, according to the Shelter statistics.

Many are forced to work in low paid jobs as they are restricted by childcare responsibilities, while others have been hit with welfare cuts.

Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate told The Independent that the charity was “deeply concerned by the rising number of single parents – the vast majority of whom are women – being tipped into homelessness.”

She added: “Balancing work and childcare can be difficult for any single parent, and with social housing in short supply while private rents far outstrip what people can afford, it’s no surprise that many are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads. So as Shelter launches its new strategy, our priority now more than ever is to fight for the millions of families whose right to a home is denied or under threat, because everyone, without exception, has a fundamental right to a safe, secure and affordable home.”

Michelle, a 41-year-old teaching assistant and single mother with two children told The Independent: “It is harder for single parent mothers than for other people. From my experience it all falls on them. Wages are staying the same, living costs are going up, unless you have got two incomes coming in you can’t survive.”

She added: “I was evicted in June and put in a bed and breakfast. In August, the council decided I had made myself ‘intentionally homeless’ and that I was the one who was not paying my rent even though I was claiming housing benefits. My housing benefit was not being paid but it was out of my control and there was nothing I could do. It is happening to too many single parent mothers out there.”

(Steve Franck ) (Steve Franck)

She said she was left feeling completely “helpless” about what to do and overwhelmed by stress sometimes.

“There are times you are so stressed you do not want to eat,” she said. ”I was trying everything in my power to get it to stop. One department told me to do one thing, another department another thing. It became really stressful. Nobody wanted to listen. It was like you were another number coming through.”

She added that her MP Rupa Huq, who represents Ealing Central and Acton ”was doing everything in her power” to help.

Michelle, whose daughter is 13 and son is 19, said living in a B&B was difficult for all of them.

“There is no internet at the B&B and no creatures comfort at all. It was hard to get comfortable because you are just on a bed the whole time and there is nothing comfortable to sit on. There was a kitchen but all of my pots and pans were in storage so you eat takeaways which is expensive.”

She added that her daughter ”suffers from anxiety” which she had managed to control “but it has taken its toll on her”.

She was referred to Hillingdon social services, but claims she was told her she would have to find her own accommodation and pay for it herself.

“I have been staying with my cousin since as I did not want to go back into another B&B and there was no way I could afford to stay in a hotel,” she said.

Now in the process of securing a property she said she felt the situation with housing for single mothers was ”unjustly difficult”.

She said: “Single mothers are working to make a life for themselves and for their children. We are working to try and better ourselves but yes we do need help because we only have one income coming in but we are being discriminated against. I have been a single parent from day one. My oldest son is 19-year-old. The father denied paternity so we had to do a paternity test.”

In response, an Ealing Council spokesperson said: “We would always encourage those struggling to pay rent or facing eviction to engage with the council at the earliest opportunity.

"It is unfortunate that Ms Griffiths actions in not providing information required to receive Housing Benefit resulted in rent arrears accruing over a period of time, resulting in her eviction.

"Ms Griffiths has requested a review of the decision which is currently underway and also recently received a discretionary payment to support her in finding alternative private rented accommodation.”

A separate report released by Shelter in August also found that women were disproportionately affected by cuts to housing benefit which in turn places them at greater risk of homelessness.

The charity analysed official figures from the Department for Work and Pensions and concluded that 60 per cent of adults on housing benefit are women. They also showed that 95 per cent of single parents receiving housing benefit are female.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Independent: “No family should be left without a roof over their head and councils must provide homeless single parents who have children with accommodation. We are working to ensure people are not left without anywhere to go and we are spending over £1.2bn to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as implementing the most ambitious legislative reform in decades, the Homelessness Reduction Act.”

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