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Highlights from the Temporary Accommodation Conference 2022

  • 7 min read |
  • Posted by Justlife
  • On 15 February 2022

I feel, as a person with lived experience, that actually the research reassures you that what you're experiencing is wrong, you're right to complain, and often the findings will just reassure you that you're not making a big fuss over nothing, which is the way the system will have you feel, on a daily basis.

On the 9th of February, people from across the homelessness sector joined us at our Temporary Accommodation Conference to hear evidence of the harsh reality of people’s lived experience of temporary accommodation, and discuss how we can turn this evidence into action.

Our guest speakers, Monica Lakenpaul from Champions Project, Alex Firth from Human Rights Watch, Becky Rice from Cardinal Hume Centre, and Leila Baker & Mary Carter from Trust for London and Oak Foundation, presented research from the perspectives of families, children, women, and support & advocacy groups, stitching together a complex, nuanced landscape of temporary accommodation in the UK, but with clear commonalities across the resident experience. Here, we’ll give a quick overview of the main highlights and talking points from the conference. If you would like to go deeper into the research, you can follow the hyperlinks below.

Monica Lakenpaul: The impact of COVID on children under 5 living in temporary accommodation

Monica kicked off the conference with a sobering insight into the experiences of children under 5 who spent lockdown in temporary accommodation, and the long-term consequences of this from a developmental perspective.

Some may question the severity of temporary accommodation because residents have a roof over their heads, but a home is not just about having walls - it is what is experienced within those walls. Children learn through what they see, smell and hear, and it’s the experiences children go through in temporary accommodation that affect their development: seeing their parents under stress, smelling the mould in their bedroom, and hearing the noise of other residents in the accommodation.

Such stresses impact the family dynamic and have a knock-on effect on a child’s capacity to learn positive behaviour and build positive relationships. In the chaotic, noisy environment of TA, children become hyper alert, fearful of people around them, and tired: conditions that bleed into their school life and compromise their ability to learn. The cycle goes on and on, leaving children behind at the very beginning of their lives.

See Monica's full presentation here.

Alex Firth: Children living in substandard temporary housing in London

Alex from the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch was up next to talk about his research into children living in London’s temporary accommodation, beginning with the statistic that over the last decade there has been a 65% increase in the number of families living in temporary accommodation. This rise can be attributed to 3 main factors:

  1. Consistent reduction in funding - Housing budgets have been cut but as a result of growing homelessness, expenditure on temporary accommodation in London has more than doubled between 2010 and 2020
  2. Cuts to benefits - Decreases in the amount of housing benefits people receive - originally, benefits covered 50% of people’s rents but in 2011, it became 30% of local rents
  3. Lack of permanent affordable housing - To both prevent homelessness and move people out of temporary accommodation

Alex also talked about a crisis in the habitability in Temporary Accommodation, noting that the rising number of homeless families is leaving local authorities with little choice over where to place people, and therefore reliant on substandard homes. In Alex’s research, people living in TA were facing numerous problems such as toxic mould, cold temperatures and a lack of space.

Becky Rice: Families and women in temporary accommodation in Westminster

Becky is currently in the midst of researching this subject and gave us a taster of the findings. Through interviews with 20 women, with a total of 34 children, ranging from 1 child per household up to 6, they found that the 3 main routes into temporary accommodation were:

  1. Fleeing violence and immediate risk of harm - Usually from a partner or family member
  2. A change in household composition and needs - Most commonly someone becoming pregnant
  3. Accommodation no longer being available - Being asked to leave family/friends or being evicted

Some of the key challenges faced by interviewees living in temporary accommodation were:

- Not being able to prepare food and having to buy expensive, unhealthy food
- Being around people with support needs
- Feeling uncomfortable about sharing facilities
- Being moved across London
- Having rooms booked for 1 night at a time and having to move quickly
- Limited accessibility for people living with disabilities

Leila Baker & Mary Carter: Support and advocacy in temporary accommodation

Leila and Mary’s research set out to better understand the issues in carrying out support and advocacy work with people living in temporary accommodation in order to help reduce the use of TA in London. Through qualitative research, they found that there are myriad property types that fall under the umbrella of TA and multiple different routes into TA, but that the problems experienced by people living in TA intersect. While they varied in their methods for supporting people, advocacy groups also experienced similar problems, such as having limited resources, being reliant on volunteers, and having a lack of legal aid / understanding to respond to legal challenges.

See Leila and Mary's full presentation here.

Greg Hurst: What Works Network, Centre for Homelessness Impact

Finally, we heard from Greg Hurst who discussed one aspect of the centre’s work which is centred around supporting local authorities to relieve and prevent homelessness, through the lens of what works and what doesn’t. Greg spoke about the importance of scaling up what works, encouraging more evaluation of what is being done, and using this data to put ideas into practice. In consultations with local authorities, the centre looks at data structures and encourages them to design new interventions that might relieve / prevent homelessness in a quicker way than is currently being done. A thread that ran through Greg’s presentation was the importance of trying new things and experimenting in a data-based way in order to accelerate an end to homelessness.

Turning evidence into action

Having listened to such excellent and revealing research, the conference then turned to discussing how we can make that evidence count and turn it into action. In part 2 of the Temporary Accommodation conference, we split into 4 break-out groups to discuss different vehicles for driving change and how they can be used to provide a link between research and action, whether that is procedural, political or structural. The vehicles discussed were Temporary Accommodation Action Groups (TAAGs), the newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group on Households in TA, the Temporary Accommodation Network, and a fourth group looked at other mechanisms for driving change. Below is a quick summary of the discussion points.

TAAGs: Starting by reflecting on the need to be patient and accept that progress takes a lot of time, this group mentioned that while the pace of change can be frustrating, it is encouraging to keep track of what has been achieved through TAAGs; for example, the Temporary Accommodation Standards Charter took time to develop, but it has almost fully been adopted by the local authority in Brighton. They also noted the importance of getting the right balance of stakeholders around the table at the right time, and not to rely on one organisation to drive the TAAG forward, but to develop the platform collaboratively.

APPG:This group discussed the use of APPGs as a platform to share and gain knowledge: giving researchers opportunities to present their insight to MPs, their staff, and policymakers, and giving MPs and other stakeholders opportunities to hear directly from the researchers and experts. They also discussed the importance of sharing accountability between national and local institutions rather than pinning it on one or the other, and how an APPG can bring together national and local voices to drive change collectively.

TA network: This group highlighted that one of the functions of the TA Network is to shine a light on what is a black hole within the homelessness world - something that is well known within the sector but isn’t often seen beyond that. They spoke about the value of surveys as tools for gathering useful data on what the barriers are within TA, how long people are living there, and what their direct experiences are, with mention of an upcoming national survey on TA by Shelter.

Open discussion: Beginning with a reminder that much of what was shared earlier around the lack of standards in TA is largely unknown to the general public, the final group discussed how we enforce standards within TA, acknowledging that while at times it can feel like there is a lack of enforcement, it’s important to recognise the complexity of the current system and how organisations have their hands tied on how far they can push private landlords.

The research shared during the Temporary Accommodation Conference, and the learning that will continually emerge through the Households in Temporary Accommodation APPG, the TAAGs, and the TA Network, will act as a constant reminder that people are struggling within TA, but also what work is being done, locally and nationally, to improve the lives of people living in TA.

If you’d like to continue learning about these issues and join our conversations for change, please sign up to our newsletter for all the latest updates on our events, what we are learning, and what we can do next to improve the lives of people living in Temporary Accommodation.