Families in Temporary Accommodation

– in the House of Commons am 8:36 pm ar 20 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Scott Mann.)

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden 8:48, 20 Mai 2024

I rise to speak out of desperation on behalf of the 112,660 homeless families, 145,800 children, and 20,000 babies who are currently living in temporary accommodation. I meet at least three or four of those families every single Friday at my advice surgery, as they are put into cramped, uninhabitable or overcrowded temporary accommodation. When I use the word “temporary” I am being misleading, because homeless families are being placed in temporary accommodation for so much longer than anybody ever should. Some 3,700 families have lived in temporary accommodation for over five years. One family has lived in it since 2009. Some children spend their entire life living in so-called temporary accommodation.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Llafur, Oldham East and Saddleworth

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. I was informed by the Shared Health Foundation about a woman who had to flee her home with her three children because of domestic violence. She has been put into temporary accommodation that is unfit for human habitation, and has been told that she is likely to be there for 10 years. Is that not absolutely inexcusable?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

My hon. Friend’s story of that particular family is sadly not unusual. I know of the work of the Shared Health Foundation, which is part of the secretariat of the all-party parliamentary group on households in temporary accommodation. I know what brilliant work it does, and that, in the foundation, my hon. Friend will have a strong advocate in trying to resolve the difficulties that she is experiencing. I will use my speech to tell the House about a few families I know of, and the disadvantages that their children face at every stage of childhood, from pregnancy all the way up to A-levels.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for rightly bringing forward this debate on families in temporary accommodation. People in my constituency face similar issues. Some sofa surf and some have been in temporary accommodation for years. Does she agree that there is a need for much more new build social housing, and that it can only go hand in hand with funding and planning in local authorities, which needs to be centralised? Does she agree that that is one of the solutions?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I agree; indeed, it is the only solution. The only way we are going to bring an end to use of expensive and appalling temporary accommodation is through building more social housing units. After I have spoken about the consequences of temporary accommodation, I will look at its cost to the taxpayer, and the billions of pounds that we are spending on it, which frankly I could think of such better uses for. Finally, I will speak of the solution to this mess.

Stories of dislocation and crisis alone could fill the debate. I have managed to get two or three such cases resolved in the last week. These are a selection; I could have doubled, tripled or quadrupled the examples of the conditions that people are being kept in, but I will start with just one. Joanna was placed in a shared house when she was four months pregnant, along with four men she did not know. She had been living there for 14 months, and by the time she came to see me she had a nine-month-old daughter. Like countless other pregnant women and parents with small children, she worried endlessly for her safety. The biggest worry for people like Joanna is that they have no safe sleeping arrangements for their babies. That is important, because we know that between April 2019 and March 2023, 55 children died as a result of the temporary accommodation they were housed in—42 of them were under one. The most likely cause of death is sudden infant death syndrome because of the lack of safe sleeping provision, such as cots. I would like to think that I speak for the whole House when I say that that is unacceptable.

After their children start going to primary school, families in temporary accommodation face a whole new set of challenges, because at least 30,000 families were placed in a borough outside their home: taking children out of school, and the families away from their support networks; taking parents and adult children away from jobs; and taking the families away from the hospitals and GP surgeries that they might desperately need. Once we remove a desperate, vulnerable family from their home environment, there are consequences for their children in school attainment and attendance, and all sorts of other things.

The guidance code on dealing with homeless families suggests that priority for local temporary accommodation should be given to children in their exam years. That is a great aspiration, but I know it is not being realised on the ground because local authorities cannot find such accommodation, particularly for larger families. Most schools would be loth to take a child in year 11 or year 13 because they would be in the second year of their exams and the curriculums would not match. Schools of all statuses are concerned about their performance. One child was moved homes five times in the first five weeks of his GCSE exams and was forced to rely on a charity that paid for his taxi to his first exam.

On one day at the civic centre in my constituency, the only temporary accommodation that could be offered to families was in Telford—170 miles away from their home borough—and that is not unique. How can someone possibly start putting their life back together when they are 170 miles away from the borough they have been living in? It is a ludicrous situation, and it means that thousands of children turn up at school dirty, tired and underdeveloped, far from ready for their vital first year. Some will have grown up confined to a small room, shared with the rest of their family, with no space to play, walk or socialise with other children. Others might live in mixed housing blocks alongside drug users, where their older siblings prefer to use a potty in the cupboard rather than queue in the corridor for a shared toilet.

I am happy to take the Minister to the temporary accommodation that many of the families that I represent have to live in. She can meet Mr and Ms N, who have five children all under the age of eight. They were originally living in my local borough of Merton in south-west London when they were made homeless, but they have been sent to every corner of London to find temporary accommodation—first to Walthamstow in north-east London and then to Ilford. Ms N is now living over an hour away from St George’s Hospital in south-west London, where she needs to go for her for appointments, medication, and scans. Her kids are missing school because of the more than two hours they have to spend on public transport every day.

The Minister can also meet Mr and Ms G, who were made homeless when they were living in Colliers Wood, which is also in my home borough of Merton. They were moved to West Croydon, from where their kids had a 90-minute journey to school, and at the end of last year they were relocated to temporary housing in Tottenham—again, miles away from the place they called home for nearly two years. They had finally found a school where their children were happy and starting to be more social, confident and secure, and I can read to the House what their primary school had to say about one of their children:

“Alfie is currently in reception. He has settled in really well and has a strong friendship circle. His attendance is extremely strong at 97% and amounts to only two absences due to illness. His punctuality is currently 100%.

Alfie’s confidence has grown, and we are very proud of his development. We look forward to seeing him progress at this school.

Alfie’s parents have relied on a strong network of parents to help them navigate through the daily aspects of school life.

I would worry that the impact of moving school as well as a new home would be very upsetting for him.”

That is one of the many consequences of our country’s lack of investment in new social housing. I am conscious of time, although I realise I have benefited from the early closure of the previous debate.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Llafur, Stockport

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. In January of this year, my local authority, Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, had 153 households in temporary accommodation. That figure was 101 in January 2022. The use of hotels alone cost the council £625,000 in the last financial year, diverting resources away from other much-needed support services during the cost of living crisis. Does my good friend agree that the Government have failed families in temporary accommodation?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I agree. Those families are being failed, and they are being failed by us all unless we get action to build more social housing.

The shocking thing is that the weaker someone is, and the less fight they have, the worse they get treated. A child with special needs will often find themselves in the ridiculous situation whereby the social services department—in the same council as the housing department that placed the child outside their borough—scraps the transport to their special school because their council has moved them out of their area. It is extraordinary that we make victims of those people, who just cannot stand up for themselves.

Members would not believe the fortune that taxpayers spend on such unacceptable accommodation—accommodation that you wouldn’t put your pet in. London boroughs spend £90 million every month on it, which is 40% more than they spent last year. Councils in England alone spent £1.74 billion on temporary accommodation in 2022/23—that is 10% more than the year before and a 62% increase over five years. Some councils seriously risk bankruptcy because of the cost of temporary accommodation.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Llafur, Liverpool, Wavertree

My hon. Friend, who is undoubtedly a doughty champion for those in temporary accommodation in constituencies up and down the country, is making a powerful and moving speech. The Secretary of State has expressed his regret about the number of children living in temporary accommodation, even though he has sat on the Government Benches throughout. The figures that my hon. Friend outlines make for very grim reading indeed, and it is clear that we cannot go on like that. Does she agree that a future Labour Government will have to work at pace across all Government Departments, rather than in silos, to get those numbers down, just as we did last time we were in office?

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Providing more social housing, and giving more support to families in temporary accommodation, needs to be a mission of the next Labour Government.

It strikes me as extraordinary that we, as a nation, are spending £1.74 billion on temporary accommodation, knowing that the figure will not go down any time soon. In Merton, we have one of the lowest numbers of families in temporary accommodation. The figure stands at between 400 and 500 families, but that is 400% higher than it ever used to be. With the ban on section 21 evictions again kicked into the long grass, I have no doubt that I will continue to see more and more families turn up at my weekly advice surgeries having been evicted from their homes and forced into temporary accommodation.

However, we can solve this crisis; it just needs the political will, which is, I would argue, something that we have been missing over the past 14 years. I do not know how anyone can say that building more social housing has been at the top of the Government’s priority list, given that we have had 15 housing Ministers in 10 years, with an average tenure of nine months each. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Felicity Buchan is very talented, and I know that she is sympathetic to our arguments and has helped the APPG on temporary accommodation greatly, but I think even she would find it difficult to struggle around this generational crisis in less than a year.

I try not to take things personally in politics, but when a Government treat housing as a political game—another hotseat for the latest Minister, only for them to be turfed out months later—it is difficult not to be angry. Never has this country needed a cross-party, long-term consensus about tackling our housing crisis more than it does now, and never have a Government seemed so ill equipped for that challenge. I appreciate that I may be biased, but the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities must be desperate for a Labour Government, just to give it some stability. I bet that a fair few of the 112,660 families living in temporary accommodation would like to see that, too.

Here is what we can do. There are 19,334 hectares of unbuilt green belt within a 10-minute walk of London train stations where there is enough space for 1 million new homes—that would be a very sensible start. Then, we could look at dealing with land bankers: in 2019, the FTSE 100 house-building companies were sitting on land banks of more than 300,000 plots between them. That is even more land that could be used for some of the families I have mentioned today. Finally, it feels like stating the obvious, but we could bring back mandatory house-building targets for local authorities. It is incredibly important to bring back those targets, and I am glad that Labour Front Benchers have committed to do just that.

There is one party in this House refusing to build on the grey belt, removing housing targets and delaying the ban on section 21 evictions, and its Members are not sat on the Opposition Benches. I issue a plea to the Government: build the homes my constituents deserve, so that we can end the vicious cycle of temporary accommodation. The situation is desperate, and I hope that the Government give it the political will it deserves.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 9:06, 20 Mai 2024

I start by thanking Dame Siobhain McDonagh, both for securing this important debate and for raising such important issues. I was delighted to work with her and her APPG on the new homelessness code of guidance for cots in temporary accommodation, and I look forward to working with her on other matters.

The whole House will agree that every child and every family deserves a decent, safe and secure home. First, that means making more good-quality, affordable homes available to families and having an effective safety net to prevent homelessness before it occurs. We are delivering on that goal by increasing supply: in the Conservative party manifesto, we committed to build 1 million homes in this Parliament, and we are on track to achieve that. I know that the hon. Lady is very genuine in her desire to see more housing starts, but I would simply say that London, under its Labour Mayor, was the worst-performing region for housing starts in 2022. We are delivering more affordable homes—nearly 700,000 since 2010—and scaling up that delivery through the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, which will provide thousands of new homes for rent and sale across the country.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

Last year, Merton Council had 72 two-bedroom properties and 34 three-bedroom properties to offer the 10,000 families on its housing register. The situation is so dire that it will not be long before a local authority goes bankrupt just on the back of temporary accommodation costs. Surely the Government have to intervene and do something.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Yes, and I will go on to explain what the Government are doing. One of our schemes is the local authority housing fund, through which we have given £1.2 billion to local authorities so that they can build and purchase housing, both for recent arrivals such as Ukrainians and Afghans and for temporary accommodation. I believe that the hon. Lady’s Borough of Merton was a beneficiary in round 2 of the local authority housing fund, and received just under £750,000.

As I was saying, we have an affordable homes programme, which is a massive £11.5 billion programme that will provide thousands of new homes for rent and sale across the country. As the hon. Lady mentioned, the quality of temporary accommodation is also very important. The number of non-decent homes has fallen by 2 million since 2010. What is more, from April we restored the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile. This means that 1.6 million low-income households will be on average about £800 a year better off, making it more affordable for families on benefits to rent properties in the private sector.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Llafur, Stockport

I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the local housing allowance. It has been uprated, but rents in Stockport are already some of the highest in Greater Manchester and the north-west, and local housing allowance is not sufficient to meet market needs in Stockport. Will she revisit this issue, and specifically look at the rates in Greater Manchester and the north-west, reflecting not only on the need but on the average rates?

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The local housing allowance has been uprated to the 30th percentile, which means people should be able to afford the bottom 30% of properties on that allowance; the intention is not that they can afford every property. The provision falls under the Department for Work and Pensions, but there is an ongoing commitment to review the local housing allowance.

Ultimately, we all want to avoid people facing homelessness in the first place, and we are putting almost £2.4 billion over three years towards tackling this issue, including £1.2 billion through the homelessness prevention grant. Since the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 came into force in 2018, more than 740,000 households have been prevented from losing their housing or have been supported into settled accommodation. The Act supports the most vulnerable, including by providing temporary accommodation to pregnant women and victims of domestic abuse. We have come a long way, but I recognise that challenges remain and the impact that living in temporary accommodation is having on too many families.

The hon. Lady mentioned the data from the National Child Mortality Database. Clearly, that is incredibly concerning, and it is why we updated the homelessness code of guidance in February to make it clear that temporary accommodation should not be considered suitable for a family with children under two years old if there is not enough space for a cot, and that housing authorities should support families to secure a cot where needed.

Where families are placed in temporary accommodation, I share the ambition to improve housing quality across the board, and to ensure that families know how to complain when they are being let down. This is the thinking behind the new proactive consumer regime being introduced via the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which gives the Regulator of Social Housing new tools to hold social landlords to account. The current review of the decent homes standard and measures in the Renters (Reform) Bill also aim to strengthen standards and regulation across all tenures, including temporary accommodation.

The hon. Lady mentioned the health and education impacts of living in temporary accommodation, and that is something I want to dig into more deeply. I had a conversation last week with the Shared Health Foundation, with which I know she spends time. We had a productive conversation, and I commit to working across Departments to look at improving health and education impacts for those in temporary accommodation. We are committed to ensuring that all children, especially the most vulnerable in our society, are safe and have access to an excellent education. That is why we are providing more than £2 billion in 2024-25 through the pupil premium to support disadvantaged pupils, which will include many who live in temporary accommodation.

Concerns have been raised with me that children, and indeed adults who are in temporary accommodation, may lose their places on NHS waiting lists if they move out of their integrated care board area. I have been reassured by colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care that that should not be the case. I know that was a concern of the Shared Health Foundation, and I am happy to follow up on any of those concerns, but that should not be the case.

In conclusion, I thank the hon. Lady for raising these issues. None of us wants to see large numbers of people in temporary accommodation. We want those numbers to fall, which is why we have a series of Government initiatives such as the homelessness prevention grant, the local authority housing fund and the local housing allowance rate. It is clear that we must address the drivers and impact of homelessness on children living in temporary accommodation. We all need to work collectively to get those numbers down and do the best we can for the most vulnerable groups in our society.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.