Families fed up with living in overcrowded homes vented their anger in the Downing Street march. Image: Steve Eason / Flickr
Hundreds of families living in temporary accommodation and overcrowded housing marched on Downing Street calling for ministers to deliver more affordable homes.
As Rishi Sunak tackled his first Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, parents and children from London campaign groups Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), Haringey Housing Action Group, Focus E15, and English for Action marched from Parliament Square to Number 10.
Protesters had placards including a piñata of squalid temporary accommodation and a long housing waiting list for children to demolish. Families also shared short speeches about their experiences in overcrowded housing at the rally.
Elizabeth Wyatt, a member of HASL said: “It’s definitely one of the biggest housing protests in London for years and years and it was all led by families directly affected which I think is really important.
“There was so much energy and I think that’s because the situation is so desperate right now – the housing crisis in London feels like it’s the worst it’s ever been.
“We timed the protest for PMQs because we were hoping to spot Rishi or any other politicians who are directly responsible for the housing crisis that people are facing now.
“The threat of more austerity is absolutely terrifying because there is nothing left to cut. It’s been intolerable and unbearable for families. We need so much investment in council housing in current stock and a radical, huge expansion of council homes.
“It’s never been so bleak but people felt so hopeful from the protest. Part of it is about trying to create solidarity and strength even in these really hard times.”
Wyatt estimated around 300 families attended the protest with organisers handing out 100 whistles to children to make themselves heard.
She told The Big Issue families are fed up with living in poor conditions.
“We know first-hand about the desperate shortage of council homes, especially three, four, and five-bed council homes that Londoners need,” added Wyatt.
“Many of our members have been living for years in temporary accommodation outside of their home borough, others are living in seriously overcrowded private rented housing. As well as mouldy, leaky, overcrowded and dangerous housing conditions, these families also face high rents and high insecurity.
“In our neighbourhoods, the shiny signs accompanying new housing developments promise luxury one and two-bed homes for sale. But what our neighbourhoods really need are high-quality, three, four, five-bed family-sized council homes.”
Around 56,000 households live in temporary accommodation in London, including 75,580 children. Almost 60 per cent of households living in temporary accommodation in England live in London.
Protesters called for leaders to use a variety of tactics to help families into permanent homes.
As well as building homes, the campaigners urged ministers to bring empty private homes back into use and to retrofit homes to reduce the climate impact of developing new properties.
While families marched in Westminster, mayor of London Sadiq Khan issued a warning to affordable housing providers that they could lose access to funding if they fail to provide homes to sufficient standards.
The Social Housing Regulation Bill is currently making its way through parliament to improve standards of social homes while giving regulators more power to take action.
But Khan said he would like to see greater reforms, including a commissioner for social housing residents to drive better conditions.
He said the Greater London Authority may limit access to funding to a specific set of projects, including those already underway, and in the most severe cases, withdraw all funding and revoke investment partner status if providers don’t hit quality standards.
“Most social housing in London is well managed and maintained. However, this is unfortunately not always the case and I am determined to use my funding powers to drive up standards in both new build and existing homes,” said Khan.
“London is building some of the most impressive new affordable homes in the country, but it is vital that existing residents experience high standards too.
“I will continue to call on the government to also take responsibility for pushing for higher standards, including by making much needed additional funding available. We owe it to all Londoners to provide better, safer, and fairer housing in the capital.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.