Housing

It's a 'surprise' more homeless children haven't died in temporary accommodation, charity says

New figures show the surge in households living in temporary accommodation is having a deadly impact on children and one charity told the Big Issue they were surprised more kids hadn’t died

55 children died while living in temporary accommodation

A total of 42 out of 55 children who died while living in temporary accommodation were aged under one year old. Image: Pixabay

A total of 55 children have died while living in temporary accommodation since 2019 and one charity told the Big Issue they were “surprised” the figure wasn’t higher.

A record 142,490 children in England are living in temporary accommodation thanks to a housing crisis that is driving councils to the brink of financial ruin.

New statistics from the End Child Mortality Database, first reported by ITV News, found the reliance on temporary homes had contributed to 55 deaths over the last five years. A government spokesperson described the figure as “shocking.”

Jane Williams, chief executive of the Magpie Project, said temporary accommodation “blights and endangers lives” and expected the true figure is likely higher.

“We work with mums and children under five, many of whom are living in temporary accommodation provided either by the Home Office, social services or the local authority. To be honest, we see the danger, the precarity and the risks under which our mums struggle to keep their children safe day to day – and we are surprised that these numbers are not higher,” said Williams.

“If you looked at those dying in adulthood of diseases and problems stemming from living in temporary accommodation as a child – you probably would see the number rise as this type of housing blights and endangers lives now, but also risks long term health and mental health consequences.

“We see so health many problems in our children including delayed rolling and crawling, malnutrition and gastro-intestinal issues around lack of kitchen facilities, accidents in the home due to unsafe accommodation, bed bugs, scabies, bites by rats, and many, many incidences of respiratory distress and disease due to mould, damp and poor air quality.”

The NHS-funded National Child Mortality Database analysed data from official reviews into 10,256 deaths from the Child Death Overview Panel.

It was able to link living in temporary accommodation to being a contributing factor in 55 deaths with 42 of the children died aged under one year of age.

Separate figures released by the government this week showed that a significant proportion of the children aged under 10 living in temporary accommodation were babies.

A total of 19,430 children living in temporary accommodation in England as of June 2023 were aged under one year old – significantly more than any other year group – while 846 were unborn.

The number of people living calling temporary accommodation home has continued to grow. Last week it was revealed more than 109,000 households were in makeshift homes as of last September. That’s up 10% in a year while the number of households with children grew 13% over the same period to 69,680.

Siobhain McDonagh, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on temporary accommodation, said the time has come to say “enough is enough.”

“It is shocking that in the fifth largest economy in the world, children are dying because of the accommodation that they are being housed in. We cannot accept that,” said the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden.

“Some of the conditions that I see are unfit for anyone to live in, let alone a child. It is the wild west out there. Whatever your political leaning, it is time to say enough is enough. None of this will change until we build enough social housing and regulate temporary accommodation.”

Christa McIver, the head of research, policy and communications at Justlife Foundation, a charity supporting families in temporary accommodation, said the government had taken steps forward to protect children by introducing guidance for cots to be provided to homeless families with children under the age of two.

“Learning about 55 child deaths over four years in TA is just devastating,” said McIver.

“There is so much work to be done. Housing is unaffordable, homelessness is rising, councils are going bankrupt, services are being cut and a lack of housing stock is driving homeless individuals and families out of area into unfamiliar places where they have no support or continuity of care from services.

“We need to see the government take this housing emergency seriously. Cots are one solution, but we need more to ensure the safety of all the children and individuals who are stuck living in horrible situations.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “These findings are completely shocking. Our guidance to councils is clear that all temporary accommodation must be safe and suitable for families with babies and have enough space for a cot.

“We will continue to work with the APPG and councils on this important issue.”

Earlier this year, the Big Issue highlighted the story of Dareen Nuru, after his family said the  one year old had been hospitalised six times with breathing difficulties due to damp and mould.

The family’s plea for help saw activists launch a sit-in protest at Lambeth Council’s offices in January after medical professionals described the family home as a “disaster waiting to happen”.

Haneen and Dareen Nuru have suffered due to damp and mould
Much of baby Dareen’s (right) first year of life has been spent receiving hospital treatment due to the condition of the family’s home. Image: Supplied

Dareen’s father Amin Nuru said he was “worried” for his children’s health and found parallels between the death of Rochdale toddler Awaab Ishak and his family’s case “very dangerous” and “scary”.

Ishak died in 2020 following complaints from his family over damp and mould in their social housing flat and the case has gone on to inspire change in that sector.

But some families in temporary accommodation will not be subject to the same Awaab’s Law protections when they come into force next month.

The Magpie Project has launched a campaign for all families living in temporary accommodation to have access to a kitchen. 

“Doctors tell us that they are well aware that it is housing causing these awful health problems but – apart from writing a letter to the Home Office or housing department – there is no more they can do,” added Williams. 

“Our mothers are wonderful parents, they know how to keep their children safe, fed and happy – but their housing conditions make it impossible for them to do so. That feels like torture to them.”

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