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MINISTERS should hang their heads in shame at new figures that reveal thousands of children in England are growing up in shipping containers and other types of temporary shelter, Labour has said.
Shadow housing secretary John Healey spoke out after the children’s commissioner, an official appointed by government to promote and protect children’s rights, warned that more than 210,000 children now have no permanent home.
In a new report, Bleak Houses, published today, commissioner Anne Longfield said: “Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks.
“Children have told us of the disruptive and at times frightening impact this can have on their lives.
“It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time or to sofa-surf.
“It is essential that the government invests properly in a major house-building programme and that it sets itself a formal target to reduce the number of children in temporary accommodation.”
Cramped shipping containers were some of the most shocking “housing” she found children living in, their thin metal walls causing significant temperature shifts throughout the year.
There are at least 13 office blocks in Harlow, Essex, that have been converted into temporary accommodation for families.
Warehouses have also been commandeered for emergency shelter. Some units are so crowded that parents are forced to sleep with their children in a single room that doubles as a kitchen.
Thousands of families living in B&Bs faced challenges of sharing bathrooms with other residents, including those with mental health or drug abuse problems.
Such an environment was “intimidating and potentially unsafe” for children, the commissioner warned.
A third of families in B&Bs had been there for more than six weeks, which is longer than the legal time limit. And some 6,000 children had been in temporary accommodation for at least a year.
The report also warns that a further 375,000 children in England are in households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, putting them at risk of becoming homeless in the future.
Mr Healey said Labour would take better care of Britain’s children.
“No child should be facing school again this September with no home to live in,” the Labour frontbencher declared.
“The number of homeless children has gone up every year since 2010 and the commissioner’s stark warning that over 200,000 children now have no home should make ministers hang their heads in shame.
“Labour will build a million genuinely affordable homes, including the biggest council-housing programme in 40 years, give renters legal protection from unfair evictions and end rough sleeping homelessness within a parliament.”
A Government spokesperson said: “No child should ever be without a roof over their head and we are working to ensure all families have a safe place to stay.
“If anyone believes they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation, we urge them to exercise their right to request a review.
“We have invested £1.2bn to tackle all types of homelessness, including funding a team of specialist advisors which has, in two years, helped local authorities to reduce the number of families in B&B accommodation for more than six weeks by 28 per cent.”
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