Children and single-parent families are bearing the brunt of rising homelessness in England, according to new figures released this week. 

In the first quarter of this year, more than 123,100 children were living in temporary accommodation — a rise of nearly 80% since 2011, according to the figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government. 

The number of homeless children has now reached the highest level since the global financial crash of 2007. 

Take action: 870 Million Children Are Counting on You

While they might not be sleeping rough on the streets, campaigners have highlighted the emotional toll that living in temporary accommodation like B&Bs can have on both children and adults. 

Jom Sparkes, the chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said “every day we see first-hand the effects of long stays in these types of accommodation. People can become isolated, with little access to vital support services, in poor conditions with nowhere to wash clothes or cook."

“Today’s figures are a stark reminder that there are still far too many people who are homeless and stuck in temporary accommodation or being placed in sub-standard and sometimes dangerous B&Bs,” he said, adding that Crisis welcomes the steps the government has already taken in preventing homelessness. 

Read more: Number of Rough Sleepers in England Rises Again for 7th Year Running

Homelessness charity Shelter spoke to a number of children about their experiences of being homeless, and one 14-year-old boy heartbreakingly compared it to a "prison sentence." 

"I've almost given up hope," added the boy. "I'm 14 and my sister is 11 and we have to share a bed." 

Another boy, 16-year-old Carl, told Shelter about the conditions of a B&B in which he was living with his family.

"I saw blood on the sheet when we arrived, I pulled the sheet off and the mattress was covered in blood," he said. "After a few days, me and my dad started itching. We were getting bitten by bed bugs. We told the owner and he said we must've brought them in." 

Meanwhile 11-year-old Deanna, another child living in temporary accommodation, said: "It's so cold at night. Sometimes I have to wear all my layers, including my jacket. There is no heating." 

Read more: This Rapper Helped Give 'Shameful' Anti-Homeless Benches a Perfect Makeover

By law, according to Shelter, children in homeless families shouldn't be placed in B&Bs for more than six weeks. But, it added, around 45% of the households with children or headed by a child living in B&Bs at the end of 2017 had been there for longer than six weeks. 

Campaigners said it’s clear that England is in the “firm grip of a housing crisis,” with figures showing a rise in both the numbers of people sleeping rough and the numbers of “hidden homeless” — including people living in temporary accommodation, sleeping on public transport, and sleeping on sofas. 

The figures released this week show that single parent families are disproportionately affected. While single parent households make up 23% of all households in England, according to theIndependentthey make up 63% of families in temporary accommodation. 

Read more: This New Report Paints a Striking Picture of Destitution in the UK

In total, there were 79,880 households in England living in temporary accommodation in the first three months of this year — up 56% from 2010, and up 3% from just a year ago. 

Of these, 77% included children and/or a pregnant woman. 

There are a number of causes, according to campaigners, including welfare cuts, a lack of affordable housing, rising rents, and the breakdown of both violent and non-violent relationships. 

Meanwhile, the number of homeless people over the age of 60 has also increased by 40% in the past year — with more than 2,500 older people now living in temporary accommodation. 

“It’s terrible to think of any older person having nowhere to call home, and these worrying new figures show that homelessness in old age is becoming a really significant social problem and one we need to get a grip on as a nation, and fast,” said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK. 

Read more: Britain Could End Homelessness Within a Decade, Says Leading Charity

And Polly Neate, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said: “Something as simple as a family breakdown can push older people from a shared family home into private renting, yet huge rents and unforgiving welfare cuts mean they lose their homes.” 

Homelessness minister Nigel Adams responded to this week’s figures by highlighting that the government is investing £1.2 billion to support people who are homeless, and has “brought in the most ambitious legislation in decades to help prevent people at risk of homelessness.” 

“There are encouraging signs that this concerted action is beginning to make a difference — homelessness acceptances are down 6% on the same quarter last year and fewer vulnerable people, including children, are in B&Bs,” he said

Read more: New Project Tracks Homeless People Who Have Died on Britain's Streets

“But it’s clear we have more to do,” he said. “That’s why we’ve engaged experts in the field to ensure we have the right measures in place.” 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on ensuring that everyone around the world has access to safe, adequate accommodation. You can join us by taking action on this issue here


Demand Equity

Child Homelessness in England Is at Highest Levels in Over a Decade

By Imogen Calderwood