More children are homeless or living in temporary accommodation than at any time since the 2007-08 financial crash, with many sharing a single room with their entire family and with nothing to cook on.
An estimated 128,000 children are facing such conditions, which the housing charity Shelter says is “a national scandal”. It estimates that 140 families become homeless every day.
One father the charity interviewed described how he lived in a motorway Travelodge with his 16-month-old son and had to heat up jars of food in the kettle, because there was no other cooking option.
A 17-year-old girl said her parents and three siblings lived in one room for four months.
“Three people sleep in the double bed with one person at the bottom and two people at the top,” she told the researchers.
“And in the single bed there’s my brother and I top and tail. My brother kicks. My mum talks in her sleep. So it’s not good sleep.”
The problem had reduced to affect about 80,000 children in 2011 but the numbers have increased steadily since, the charity said.
About 100,000 households are living in temporary accommodation in the UK, according to the Homeless Link charity.
More than 4,000 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night and, since 2010, rough sleeping estimates show an increase of 134%.
In 2011, the government cut housing benefit allowances from the bottom 50% of local rents to 30%. Shelter also cited the rollout of universal credit, the bedroom tax and the lowering of benefit caps in 2013 and 2016 as contributing factors.
“It’s a national scandal that the number of homeless children in Britain has risen since 2011,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter. “No child should have to spend Christmas without a home – let alone 128,000 children.”
Of the 23 interviews Shelter carried out with children and parents in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation and hostels, every family lived in a single room.
A quarter had no kitchen and half shared toilets with other households, often with filthy conditions and unlocked doors, Shelter reported.
Parents said they believed their children’s physical and mental health suffered, with incidents of bed bug infestations and broken heating causing children to fall ill.
Amy, 15, said: “There’s a tiny toilet with a shower but my brother doesn’t like showers because he’s autistic so he has to bathe in a bucket. He stands in it and mum tips a cup over him. He screams if you try to put him in the shower.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “This government is committed to breaking the homelessness cycle once and for all, and is working with Shelter and others to do this.
“We’re providing over £1bn until 2020 to tackle the issue and are implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act – the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.
“Councils have a duty to provide safe, secure and suitable temporary accommodation. This means that people are getting help now and no family is without a roof over their head this Christmas.”
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