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Conversations for change: Initial cross-party meeting about challenges facing households in temporary accommodation

  • 6 min read |
  • Posted by Justlife
  • On 16 December 2021

An initial cross-party meeting, precursor to the APPG, took place on the 7th of December and highlighted the dire need of a focus on TA in political conversations. It was attended by a number of politicians, journalists, academics and people from across the sectors working to support people living in TA and bring about change.

There are currently 96,600 households living in temporary accommodation (TA), including 124,290 children. Many are living in damp, mouldy, overcrowded and unsafe environments that can lead to poor physical and mental health and, in the case of children, limitations on their development, yet there is a prevailing narrative that once someone is in TA, their homelessness is solved.

This narrative is a barrier to driving much-needed change; if there is no problem, then nothing needs to be done. But the reality is that too many children, families and single individuals are becoming trapped in TA as a long-term housing solution to homelessness. These longer stays in insecure, sometimes poor-quality accommodation can have serious long-term consequences including trauma, diminished future opportunities, mental and physical health conditions, and entrenchment in cycles of homelessness.

With this in mind, our hope is an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) focused entirely on households in temporary accommodation will explore the ‘quick wins’ (actions we can take now) as well as provide a forum for learning, inquiring and evidencing the impact of TA on a national level: to inform both systemic solutions and the ‘quick wins’. An initial cross-party meeting, precursor to the APPG, took place on the 7th of December and highlighted the dire need of a focus on TA in political conversations.

The Speakers

Special guest speakers included Daniel Hewitt, ITV correspondent, who spoke about his experience of meeting temporary accommodation residents, and investigating the long-term health and social impacts of poor-quality housing, and Angie, Maternal Health Lead from Shared Health, who spoke about her experiences working in the type of poor-quality housing found in the TA world.

Daniel Hewitt led an investigation into poor-quality housing recently, specifically around the inhabitable conditions found in some forms of social and temporary housing. In the meeting, Daniel emphasised that temporary accommodation is rarely temporary, and shared anecdotal evidence of people he met during his investigation who have waited years to be moved into alternative housing.

While acknowledging the national housing shortage as the root cause of many of these issues, Daniel also recognised the shortcomings of the media in their lack of coverage and scrutiny of TA, and in viewing people’s stories as being a local, rather than national crisis. He also spoke about the culture of dishonesty that can run through local authorities and landlordism, which stems from the lack of choice and resources they have after years of being ground down by funding cuts. Daniel ended with the poignant reflection that when human beings lose hope, it can become a dangerous place to be in.

Next, we had Angie from Shared Health Foundation who discussed her experiences of working with families affected by homelessness in Oldham. She noted that many of the parents she works with are lone women who, on top of supporting their families and navigating homelessness, carry the weight of their own adverse childhood experiences. Angie spoke about the impact of homelessness and poverty on children, highlighting that many do not reach their full development or growth potential as a result of missed health appointments, missed school days, being moved from TA to TA, and all the other difficulties that make having a stable routine harder to manage.

Angie also discussed the impact of families being placed far away from their children’s school: “Our families often struggle to get children to school which can be a 20 min walk, a bus ride and another 20 min walk on the other side. All this before 9am, for many of our families they have babies conceived and born in Temporary accommodation, imagine this challenge whilst recovering from a caesarean section or post-partum haemorrhage”, before ending with a reminder of the concerns around the lack of regulatory standards for families in TA, and the lack of a notification system to notify health and education services when families are moved into a new area.

The Discussion

Once we heard from the guest speakers, we opened the floor to a discussion about the need and aspirations for an APPG. Out-of-borough placements were a dominant talking point, with some commenting on legislation that exists but is not enforced, and some advocating for the need for the legislation to include more accountability if it is not being met.

While everyone agreed on the urgent need for more social housing, there was also agreement on the necessity of pushing through measures to improve temporary accommodation in the short-term. Siobhan Macdonogh MP suggested establishing an Ofsted-style regulatory body to oversee TA, enforce the existing legislation, and fill in the gaps in our knowledge around the practical things that are causing the lack of enforcement. Some people raised important questions around whose responsibility it is to enforce the legislation - is it the local authority or the housing enforcement teams?

Although this would be the responsibility of national government, which not everyone felt was the right solution to the challenge, we need to understand more about who should be enforcing the existing legislation around conditions - is it housing enforcement as part of local authority environmental health teams or something that sits under the housing/homelessness teams of local authorities? Regardless, there was a general consensus that alongside action, there needs to be a greater understanding of what the barriers are for local authorities when they are not following existing legislation.

A mother with experience of being placed out-of-area echoed Angie’s call for a notification system to improve borough to borough communication, stressing the importance of bringing in measures to ensure that families are not lost in the system when they are placed out-of-area. They spoke movingly about the isolation they experienced while living away from everything and everyone they knew, advocating for the need to look at what can happen now to improve living standards within TA, rather than wait for social housing to be built.

Another discussion point was the gaps in our collective understanding of TA; there is a lot that we don’t know and because of that, we need a space to share knowledge, learning and solutions. One example is that chronic overcrowding is a problem in some temporary hostels in London because there is no existing legislation to address overcrowding in hostels. It became clear that while we should not shy away from the bigger system changes that are needed, we also need to focus on those ‘quick-wins’.

Final thoughts

We know that one of the systemic answers to the issue of temporary accommodation is the creation of truly affordable housing options, including social housing. However, for all these 96,600 households living in TA right now, there are immediate things to be done that will improve their experiences of TA, and minimise its detrimental impact on their health and wellbeing.

The meeting demonstrated a general consensus on the need for an APPG - in particular, a space to examine where and why people are placed out-of-area, why existing legislation isn’t being followed, and whether the national government has a role in that.

The APPG will be officially registered in the new year and will begin to start tackling these issues. If you’d like to get involved, please fill out this survey to let us know what you think the most pertinent issues are within temporary accommodation.