Sixty Second Interview with Adam Sampson
by Amy Taylor
Your report finds that the number of homeless households living in temporary accommodation has soared in the 40 years since Shelter was formed due to a steep decline in the building of social housing. What needs to happen to tackle this?
The report shows that homelessness has become more of a problem because we are failing to build enough social housing. That means that when people are accepted as homeless by their local council there is often no long-term housing option available and they have to be put in temporary accommodation, which can have a serious impact on their health education and prospects in life.
It adds that as a result more than one million children are trapped in bad housing. Why do you think this problem been left to reach such proportions?
Probably because as a society we’ve moved away from the long-established notion that housing is the foundation on which a life is built. Only now are we beginning to get a public demand for more affordable housing, which means we have a lot of catching up to do.
Shelter has said that 10 years ago Tony Blair, then leader of the opposition, made a commitment to cutting rough sleeping, which saw numbers decline dramatically, and has called for a similar commitment to end bad housing for children. Do you think government policy has neglected this area in favour of getting rid of the more visible homeless people on the street?
It is clear that over the last seven years the government’s priorities have been to tackle the emergency problems in relation to housing. That’s why considerable resources have been poured into both rough sleeping and ending the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for families with children under 16. These are positive developments but we hope the attention turns to the deeper, more systemic problem of a lack of social housing and that the government is more ambitious in its targets.
Do you expect the government’s aim to half child poverty by 2010 and to eradicate it by 2020 to have a significant impact on getting children out of poor housing?
The problem is that the number of children who are trapped in bad housing is growing, not declining. The other factors which create poverty such as low educational attainment are incredibly important but for too long we’ve seen housing as an outcome of poverty rather than a cause of poverty. Until that changes, we’re not likely to see a huge reduction. It’s also the reason why Shelter is calling on the government to make a commitment to end bad housing for the next generation of children.
What do you think about the government’s decision to using a measure of poverty based on people’s income before housing costs have been removed to decide whether it has reached its targets?
Inevitably this underestimates the number of children living in material deprivation because housing costs play such a huge role in determining whether a child effectively grows up in a poor or financially comfortable family. This is something which needs to be looked at because, fundamentally, housing is one of the key determining factors in a child’s future life chances.