The crisis in UK social care has to be confronted, writes Lucy Nichols
Thousands of homeless children in the UK are housed in shipping containers, converted office blocks or Bed and Breakfasts. According to a report by the Children’s Commission, an estimated 210,000 children are growing up in temporary accommodation.
Local councils are chronically short of funding and often have no option but to house young families in bed and breakfasts or poorly-converted office blocks. Councils in Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff and Ealing have even resorted to putting homeless families in shipping containers.
The containers are placed on ‘meanwhile sites’; land not currently in use but will one day be developed. With no heating or air conditioning, the containers are freezing in the winter and too hot in the summer. Despite being billed as ‘temporary’, it is common for families to stay in desperately inadequate housing for months, sometimes years.
Families are frequently moved miles away from their local area and support networks, with councils unable to afford social housing in their own boroughs. This leads to a form of ‘social cleansing’ as extremely vulnerable, working class people are pushed to the outskirts of the cities they once called home. Harlow, in Essex, has 1000 temporary flats in former office buildings - many in industrial estates so far from the town centre that residents walk up to an hour to reach the nearest shop, and children have nowhere to go apart from improvised play areas in car parks. Extended periods in temporary accommodation lead to complex mental health issues in many children. These issues carry on well into a child’s life, even if they are eventually given a permanent home.
Growing up without a safe place to call home is the reality for thousands of children in Britain; half a million children are already homeless or at risk of homelessness. The lack of affordable housing, poor protection for private renters and cuts to welfare payments are all issues brought about and maintained by the austerity measures of the last decade. Britain is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, but decent housing for all is a pipe dream until we put an end to austerity.
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