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The Temporary Accommodation Crisis: Turning Anger into Hope

  • 4 min read |
  • Posted by Simon Gale, CEO
  • On 10 December 2023

The financial cost of temporary accommodation in England is huge. £1.7 billion a year in England alone, a 62% increase over the past 5 years. It’s sending some local authorities to the brink, it’s unaffordable and has an obvious knock-on effect on local services. It frustrates us to see councils who deliver vital services being driven close to bankruptcy. But what makes us angry is the human cost of temporary accommodation.

Justlife was founded in 2008 when Jason died in temporary accommodation in East Manchester, and he wasn't discovered until a week later. It didn’t take us long to realise that temporary accommodation usually isn’t temporary; people had been there for years, conditions and safety were often poor, generally people had a nightly license, which means they had no tenancy rights and evictions were common; many people living in such accommodation had experienced multiple disadvantage and trauma throughout their lives, but were left there with no support.

As the Justlife story has developed in Manchester and Brighton & Hove, and through carrying out research into the impact of temporary accommodation, we have seen that very often it has a hugely negative impact on people’s health and wellbeing. What frustrates us is that in many cases, this can be prevented by improving living standards and ensuring people are supported to continue engaging with health services when they move into TA. Our friends at Shared Health Foundation have reported on the awful impact on babies, children and their families in temporary accommodation, not just at the time but also the long-term effects. Tragically reporting that between 2019-2022, 34 children died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, with temporary accommodation listed as a possible contributing factor in the coroner's report. Most of these children were babies under 1. Again, it’s hard to feel anything other than anger at this loss of life, which may have been prevented had there been safer sleeping equipment.

But despite the huge costs and obvious crisis we find ourselves in, we still hold onto a fundamental belief that change is possible and that there are signs of hope that give us the energy to keep supporting people day in day out, to keep campaigning and to keep gathering people together who are passionate about changing the system.

In autumn, the Chancellor announced plans to raise local housing allowance after being frozen since 2020. This is something we wrote to Jeremy Hunt and campaigned for along with many other charities. This won’t solve the housing crisis but our hope is it reduces the cost burden on local authorities and makes more private rented sector properties affordable, therefore preventing people falling into homelessness and supporting local authorities to move people out of TA.

We know there are really good temporary accommodation providers out there who focus on social impact as well as their profit, and we’ve even met a non-profit housing developer working with local authorities and charities to enable them to own their own housing to keep any profit in the voluntary sector to be reinvested in support.

We are constantly inspired by people across local communities who are coming together to set up Temporary Accommodation Action Groups, which gather everyone involved to look at solutions and work together for change. It’s been a privilege to meet people in Bristol, including within the local authority, who are proactively looking at what can be done differently to get a different outcome. And seeing these local groups feed into our work with politicians as co-secretariats of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Households in Temporary Accommodation, shouting about change on a national level.

We are privileged to have the involvement of people with lived experience of temporary accommodation in these groups locally and nationally, their voice is the most powerful in bringing change.

We are encouraged by the momentum of our campaign with Shared Health Foundation to ask the government to provide a cot or Moses basket to every family placed in temporary accommodation with a child under two. This would reduce the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and be a significant step towards giving homeless children a safer place to sleep every night of their homelessness journey.

For us, temporary accommodation in itself isn’t the enemy here, it’s part of a safety net in the UK that we are grateful for, but although we are angry it isn’t working as it should, we are also full of hope that it can change and become a short, safe and healthy experience for those who need it.