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The Conservative and Labour Party Conferences: What was said about Temporary Accommodation

  • 6 min read |
  • Posted by Emma
  • On 29 October 2023

Justlife held fringe events at the Conservative and Labour Party conferences in October to push for temporary accommodation (TA) to be made a priority in the manifestos of both political parties. While we are still waiting to see what policy points made it into the manifestos, there were some seeds of hope that we could take away from both conferences.

With more than 105,000 households in temporary accommodation across England, there is an unprecedented demand for housing that is pushing councils into bankruptcy and causing misery for the people pushed into homelessness. As Shelter says, home is everything and its effects go beyond having a roof over your head, spurring huge societal consequences for health, education, employment and crime. As such, we believe all political parties need to prioritise homelessness in their manifestos for the next general election. We went to the Conservative and Labour Party conferences to add our voice to the chorus of organisations calling for this change.

Amidst a full roster of housing fringe events at both conferences, we hosted our own, alongside Shared Health and the TA APPG, to give temporary accommodation some much-needed focus. While there was a consensus among panellists from both parties that we need to build more social housing, only Labour put housing front and centre of their conference agenda, with Angela Rayner promising to deliver the “biggest boost to affordable housing for a generation” in her speech. It remains to be seen how many affordable homes will be built, and whether they will look at more immediate solutions to this emergency such as raising Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and providing cots for children.

Conservative Party Conference in Manchester

At our Conservative fringe event, LHA was raised by Richard Clewer, a Councillor from Wiltshire Council, who said there are currently no houses for rent in Wiltshire that are affordable to people on LHA. This scarcity of affordable properties is echoed across England, where just 4% of homes in the private rented sector are advertised below LHA rate. In London, that figure drops to 2.3%. In response, Iain Duncan Smith MP agreed that it was “one of the priorities we have to look at now just to stabilise the ship”, and said he had been discussing it with the secretary of state.

The housing emergency is also causing significant financial problems for Local Authorities, some of whom are being pushed to bankruptcy. Last month, it was announced that TA had cost LAs £1.7 billion - a 9% rise on the previous year. This cost is compounded by frozen LHA rates: the cheapest private rentals used for TA charge local authorities £53 per night, but LAs can only claim back £19.93 in housing benefit.

Christa Maciver, our Head of Research, Policy and Communications, said uplifting LHA is key to preventing homelessness and “alleviating blockages to go out of TA and into the private rented sector again” and summarised the recommendations from our APPG report, which include introducing national regulation of standards in TA. On top of issues with affordability, LAs are also struggling to find suitable accommodation; an issue echoed at our own conference by West London Alliance who said that out of the TA they inspect and grade, most are rated D which means they have at least one category 2 hazard.

Dr Laura Neilson, CEO of Shared Health, highlighted the urgent need for cots for children in TA in order to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Currently, there is a lack of clarity around who should provide a cot, resulting in lots of babies sleeping without them. We know this can be fatal. Tragically, 34 children, most of whom were under 1, died in temporary housing - a figure Laura said was “staggeringly disproportionate for what we would expect for the population”. Laura urged the government to commit to providing a cot for every child in TA to substantially reduce mortality rates.

Labour Party Conference in Liverpool

The call for cots resounded at our event at the Labour Party Conference, where Siobhain McDonagh MP, chair of the TA APPG, announced that the APPG will launch a campaign asking every political leader to sign a pledge requiring their party to change the legislation for TA to provide a cot for every child under 2.

Shadow Homelessness Minister Mike Amesbury MP acknowledged the myriad problems associated with TA, likening the housing system to “shuffling people and children with hopes, aspirations and dreams around like deck chairs on a ship that is sinking quite rapidly”. Mike agreed that there is a problem with standards and said the Labour Party would deal with the supply side, but also the here and now, including exploring the regulation of TA which he described as “getting a referee on the pitch and putting children and families centre stage”.

Siobhain McDonough MP reaffirmed the need for regulation, highlighting that while there is a code of guidance, it has “no teeth” and “no force” leaving understaffed and under resourced councils, who are desperate to get a roof over people’s heads, struggling to abide by the guidance. As numbers spiral, so does control over the situation, leading to a state of crisis where the conditions people are placed in fall to the wayside.

Vicky Spratt, Housing Correspondent for iNews, told us about Kelly, whose story captures the devastating and sometimes tragic consequences of our housing crisis. Kelly was moved ‘out of area’ from Bromley to Croydon which, although only a 45 minute drive, had a catastrophic impact on her life. When her son had an asthma attack because the new GP had accidentally prescribed the wrong inhaler, she didn’t know where the nearest hospital was. He tragically died before she could get him there, on the driveway of the temporary house. As Vicky said “That’s what the displacement of TA can mean for someone because if she’d been in a place she’d always lived, she’d have known how to get to the hospital, she wouldn’t have had to check”

Christa Maciver made the case for a notification system that would alert local services when a household becomes homeless. This would place the onus for sharing information on systems rather than the people affected: "When someone is placed in temporary accommodation, the GP needs to know, the school needs to know and we need to know so that we can support them". Christa also said an uplift to LHA must sit alongside a corresponding rise in Universal Credit. Without this, a family may still be left destitute and struggle to cover basic necessities such as food and heating.

A month on from the conferences, TA has once again made headline news as 158 councils met to discuss the unsustainable demand for TA which is crippling their budgets to the extent that the “council safety net is at risk of failing”, and a new report reveals space standards in TA fall far below what families require to go about their daily lives. It is more important than ever that we continue to shine a light on the problems with TA, for the people and the systems relying on it, so that the next government, whoever it may be, ushers in policy change that will save lives.