Children: Temporary Accommodation — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 11th November 2013.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 3:06 pm, 11th November 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ameliorate the impact on children of living in temporary accommodation.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the Government are investing £470 million during this spending review period to help prevent and to tackle homelessness. This investment has meant that the average time spent in temporary accommodation by those families who are at risk of becoming homeless has reduced from 20 months at the start of 2010 to 13 months as of September this year.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which, frankly, I do not believe addresses the seriousness of the current situation. Shelter estimates that this Christmas 80,000 children in Great Britain will wake up homeless. The number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation is the highest for nearly 10 years, with some 40% having to stay beyond the legal limit of six weeks, and more than 11,000 homeless households have been based in temporary accommodation in another area. All of this is damaging and disruptive to children’s health, to their education and to family life. I ask the Minister how the costs of all this to families, communities and society are weighed against the benefit restrictions that are fuelling the homelessness crisis.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, all of us are concerned to protect children and, thankfully, in this country we have a strong homelessness safety net, which is protected in law and ensures that families with children at risk of being homeless always have a roof over their head. As I said in my original Answer to the noble Lord, we have invested £470 million in preventing homelessness. Our effort is very much around preventing and avoiding people being put at risk in the first instance, but we are also working very closely with councils to ensure that they are properly equipped to provide the support that is necessary to anyone who is at risk at any time, never mind whether it is at Christmas or not.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, given that there is considerable anecdotal evidence of the health and education problems faced by young children in temporary accommodation, especially bed-and-breakfast accommodation, is any data collected to show the exact effect on children, specifically where they have to change GPs? Is there a requirement on local authorities to collect that data, particularly where children are in single-room accommodation for more than the maximum six weeks?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful to my noble friend. As I have just said, Ministers are working very hard with local authorities to ensure that those families who are housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are not housed there for longer than six weeks. Yes, data will be collected and I am sure that I will be able to provide more information to my noble friend, but I emphasise the huge amount of effort that is being made in this area to minimise any of the effects on children.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

My Lords, does the Minister really think that bed-and-breakfast accommodation is ever suitable for children?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

What would be absolutely and totally unacceptable would be for any child to have no roof whatever over their head. If a child is at serious risk and the only option available to a local authority in an emergency is bed-and-breakfast accommodation, then, as long as it is for the barest minimum time possible, that is preferable to no accommodation whatever. However, clearly it should be for the very minimum amount of time.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, will the noble Baroness ensure that every effort is made across government to limit the impact that this disruption has on a child’s education? These frequent moves can be very disruptive for the education of children at a critical stage in their lives.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The noble Lord makes an important point, and of course we are working very hard to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible. It is perhaps worth saying to your Lordships that there is clearly great pressure on London versus the rest of the UK. I think that the term we are talking about is “out-of-district placements”, where people are moved from one district to another. However, it is worth noble Lords being aware that information collected by London Councils shows that, of the moves from one district to another, most are within London and only a very small percentage are necessarily outside London.

Photo of Baroness Knight of Collingtree Baroness Knight of Collingtree Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that even worse in the order of upsetting these children is when they are moved from one adoptive home to another? This can sometimes go on for years, with a long list of upsets for the children. Does she recognise that this is a real problem that needs attending to because of the misery that it causes?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My noble friend is right. In the efforts that we are making under the heading of prevention, certainly some of the money is used to ensure that families stay together so that as few children as possible are disrupted and moved out of their families to any other kind of home.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

Does the Minister agree with local authorities and with me that the number of children in temporary accommodation, and the length of time that they spend there, will both rise as a direct result of the Government’s policies—that is, the bedroom tax?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

There is no evidence at this time to suggest that what the noble Baroness asserts is the case. I emphasise the amount of funding that has been specifically set aside both for the areas where rent increases are causing a shortage of affordable housing and for all areas to help people transition and deal with the different welfare reform changes.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat

Can the Minister give the House an indication of the number of local authorities and families involved in breaching the six-week rule?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

This is an area where we have focused quite a lot of effort. We have increased transparency by publishing information about the performance of all authorities in this regard, and we have provided £2 million for the seven councils with the highest numbers of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation to support them in reducing those numbers. Westminster and Croydon are two examples of local authorities that we have worked with, and they have now reduced to zero the number of families staying in bed and breakfast accommodation beyond six weeks.