More than 2,000 families with children are now living in bed and breakfast accommodations in Britain, the highest number in such emergency housing in a decade and an increase of 8 percent from 2012. Government figures show that homelessness is up by 6 percent.
These are just some signs of what some are calling a growing a homelessness crisis in the U.K. Some 56,000 people are now living in temporary accommodations, most in privately rented short-term apartments and others in B&Bs.In many cases, entire families are living in a single room in the B&Bs. While British law says that they are to live there for no longer than six weeks, 760 out of 2,090 families had been living in B&Bs longer back in June. That’s a 10 percent increase from the number last year, according to the housing charity Shelter.
Shelter also reports that it has received almost 175,000 calls for help this year, an increase of 10 per cent from 2012. Visits to its online advice pages are up by 20 percent. More than 80,000 British children will be spending their Christmas holidays “without a proper home,” says the Independent.
A B&B is No Place for a Family to Live
Americans associate bed and breakfasts with vacations in quaint surroundings. But life in such places for the more than 2,000 homeless families who have had no other place to turn to is no picnic, for sure. In interviewing 25 families, Shelter found that most felt unsafe and that their children had seen drug use and dealing, sexual offenses and other acts of violence:
Most of the families lived in one room, and half said their children were sharing beds with their parents or siblings. Twenty-two said it was very difficult to find a safe place for their children to play, 12 had to share kitchen facilities, and three had no cooking facilities. One family reported sharing a cooker and a fridge with 22 other people.
Two-thirds of the families interviewed said their children had no table to eat on, more than half had to share a bathroom or toilet with strangers, and 10 families shared with seven or more other people. Schoolchildren found it difficult to do homework.
In fact, one mother told Shelter that they had left a B&B after another resident tried to sell them crack cocaine.
Have Government Reforms Contributed to the Homelessness Crisis?
Shelter’s Helpline staff cite welfare reforms – including the benefit cap, the bedroom tax (which has led to new rules for people claiming benefits) and “increasingly punitive benefit sanctions” as reasons for the increase in calls to its helpline. Additional factors are the “continued fallout from the recession, the rise of the cost of living and an apparent increase in rogue landlords as the rental market grows.” Callers describe living in rentals with damp, damaged walls; any holes are only covered by plastic.
Emma Reynolds, Shadow Housing Minister, specifically criticizes the government of Prime Minister David Cameron, saying that he “promised to tackle homelessness but on his watch it has risen by a third and the number of families with children living in bed and breakfasts is at a 10 year high.”
Funding Cuts and New Regulations Hurt the Most Vulnerable
Funding cuts for programs to help homeless individuals and families have fallen the heaviest on the most vulnerable, including those with drug and alcohol problems, ex-offenders and families with young children.
To cite one example, Nottinghamshire County has proposed a 35 percent reduction in Supporting People (SP), the funding that many charities for the homeless rely on. This reduction follows a 65 percent cut two years ago. In 2004, SP spending in Nottinghamshire was £27 million; by 2017 it will be just £8 million.
New government policies have also made life even more difficult for those trying to make ends meet and facing eviction. In November, more than 400,000 lost Jobseekers Allowance benefits under new and tougher government sanctions designed to be a “deterrent.” People can now lose their benefits for leaving a job voluntarily or failing to show up for an interview.
Just under half of those who have lost benefits and are under 25 are disabled, sick or from abusive homes or are children themselves. They are in effect being punished “for circumstances beyond their control,” writes Tim Farron, a Liberal Democrat politician, in The Guardian.
As Farron chillingly but all too accurately states, “unless we tackle the housing crisis, homelessness is going to become a mainstream problem.” He describes a vicious cycle in which “working families can’t afford to buy, and aspiring homeowners are trapped renting.”
“This shouldn’t be happening in 21st-century Britain,” Campbell Robb, the chief executive of Shelter, says about what could be called a double-headed crisis regarding housing and homelessness. But as Shelter’s helpline workers and other advocates for the homeless know, it is.
Last year, more than 12,600 people called Shelter’s helpline in December, a 15 percent increase from the year before. Helpline workers expect the same will happen this year as too many individuals and families find themselves with no home to call their own during the holidays.
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