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Sunday, October 23, 2016
Scandal of one million children in Britain living in poor housing
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¬†Britain is one of the five richest countries in the world yet more than one million children live in poor housing. The statistics tell a depressing story. In 2003-2004, some 137,000 households in England were accepted as homeless (that is, eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and in priority need). Among families homelessness has increased by 17 per cent since 1997. The number of families in temporary accommodation is at an all time high of 97,290, some nine per cent up on 2003. The high level of those being housed in temporary accommodation is largely due to the lack of social housing available to accommodate them. More than a third of these cases are in London where social housing is in particularly short supply. There are one million fewer social housing homes than 25 years ago. Homeless people suffering on the streets are there for all to see. But children and their parents crammed into accommodation run by unscrupulous private landlords are more difficult to detect. Yet the experience of poor housing can scar children for life. The problems of living in poor housing do not seem to hit the headlines yet the victims tend to be among the youngest and most vulnerable in our society. John and Patsy are just two of those children who can testify to the debilitating effect of poor housing on young lives. At 14, John lives with his three brothers, sisters and mother in cramped accommodation. He has moved school five times. He has been in temporary accommodation for two years. He has lived in three temporary flats. His mother fled domestic violence. He witnessed it, and now struggles to make friends. Patsy said: "They shouldn't put people in that bed and breakfast. Not families with young children. Not with all sorts of other people that's got problems. Drugs and alcohol sometimes. Sometimes mental problems. I'm not downing them. People have got to go somewhere. But not with young children. "How would you feel if you were there with your children stuck in one room with nothing to cook on and the wall caving in and all sorts going on outside the room? How would you feel?" The national picture is not a pretty one of children living in cramped accommodation, experiencing disturbed sleep, poor diet, hyperactivity, bedwetting and soiling, aggression and higher rates of accidents and infectious diseases. Homeless children are also twice as likely to be admitted to hospital, with high admissions rates for accidents and infectious diseases. "Multiple housing deprivation appears to pose a health risk that is of the same magnitude as smoking and, on average, greater than that posed by excessive alcohol consumption, according to the British Medical Council. Refugee children are particularly hard hit. A family of seven (parents and five children aged between 6 and 14) fled Iraq and were housed in a tower block in Newcastle. While there, the children had eggs thrown at them, had abuse shouted at them and were assaulted. The family were granted leave to remain which meant they lost their accommodation. They moved to London where a local authority granted temporary accommodation but they were set to be sent back to Newcastle. In the end advisors from church housing charity Housing Justice got involved and managed to persuade the council to provide temporary accommodation in the capital. During this whole period the children did not receive education. Educationally, children who live in temporary accommodation suffer because they are constantly on the move. When at school they often struggle to keep up, being forced to do homework in cramped conditions where it is impossible to get any privacy. Making friends is also difficult for children who are never in one place for very long. "Education is a particular concern, given that children only have one chance. We know children who suffer terribly as a result of homelessness. They tend to live in overcrowded forms of temporary accommodation, which mean that minor illnesses like chest infections and diarrhoea become rampant. So they have a higher than average number of days off school," said Robina Rafferty, the director of Housing Justice (HJ). The modern day obsession with exam league tables means that many schools are not happy to take on children who they believe will only be there for a very short time. Children who have more time off sick are viewed as less likely to do well in exams. The course work that has to be done to succeed in such courses is also not easily completed when the child lives in bad accommodation. The HJ director claims to have seen children whose development in terms of walking or talking has been stunted due to their being moved away because of homelessness. "We know from research that children's opportunities for growth both physical and educational and in some cases emotional as well are stunted by homelessness," said Ms Rafferty Neither does living in such cramped accommodation do much to help family life, contributing substantially as it does to marriage break down. It is a scandal in a rich country like Britain - which can afford to spend more than £6 billion on the war in Iraq - that children should be forced to endure the misery of homelessness. Housing Justice is using its Homelessness Sunday campaign this year to demand that the government address the issue of children facing the suffering of homelessness. There are many homeless people in the country while at the same time more than 600,000 houses lie vacant. Some are in the wrong parts of the country for work but many are not. The housing market has been so inflated over recent years that for those seeking to invest it makes financial sense in some cases to buy property and leave it vacant and just watch the price go up. This may make financial sense but it does not help to deal with the problem of homelessness. "Poor housing blights children's opportunities. We cannot simply look away. We cannot even be satisfied with charitable giving. If here is a systematic problem, we must play our part in highlighting it, and then in looking for solutions," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. Homelessness Sunday, on 30 January, now in its twelfth year, is a day of ecumenical prayer and action in churches and local communities around England, as well as in Scotland and Wales. For more information see:
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