Children in England are growing up in shipping containers, office blocks, and bed and breakfasts, a report into youth homelessness has found, as authorities around the country struggle to combat the country’s crippling housing crisis.
A total of 210,000 children are homeless — meaning they live in temporary accommodation or are “sofa-surfing” around various homes — the report by the Children’s Commissioner found, a figure significantly higher than previously estimated.
That number includes many who are living in converted shipping containers, which have been used by some local councils to plug a gap in available housing.
In addition, it found 375,000 children in families at financial risk of becoming homeless.
“Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks,” Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
The report said: “overcrowding can be an issue” for those living in converted containers. “The containers become very hot in summer — one mother told us she had to sleep with the front door wide open and that her baby got heat rash — but are too cold in the winter,” it noted, adding that some parents worry about letting their children play outside due to antisocial behavior.
“Despite the problems posed to families housed in these containers, they continue to be an attractive option to councils,” it adds. “They are less costly than repeatedly paying for B&Bs, with a one bedroom shipping container costing approximately £35,000 ($43,000) to set up.”
The Children’s Commissioner’s Office has heard that a number of local councils are looking to install shipping containers as temporary accommodation within their areas, the report added.
It also raised concern about families living in office blocks, several of which have been converted to create more than 1,000 new flats. “Many of the flats are small, single studios which do not come close to meeting national space standards,” the report stated.
Britain has been battling a homelessness crisis for several years, with roughly one in every 200 Britons sleeping on the streets or in temporary accommodation, according to the charity Shelter.
The same charity found in late 2018 that the number of homeless children in the UK has risen by more than 50% in the past five years.
A report the previous year by the UK’s National Audit Office blamed, among other factors, rises in rental costs and the capping and freezing of housing benefits, which began in 2011, for the rapid increase in homelessness across the country.
It said the government’s approach to working with local authorities to tackle the problem was “light touch,” adding: “This contrasts with the more interventionist approach that it has taken during previous periods of high homelessness.”
In response to the new report, a government spokesperson told CNN: “No child should have to live in dangerous accommodation and we are working to ensure all families have a safe place to stay. “We have invested £1.2bn to tackle all types of homelessness, and we are working closely with councils across the country to reduce the number of families in temporary accommodation.” (CNN)