Special report on the effects of poor housing on child poverty

Two significant developments in the fight to tackle child
poverty have taken place in the last few days. Barbara Roche,
minister for social exclusion, announced government plans to limit
to six weeks the time councils can house homeless families in bed
and breakfast accommodation, writes Derren

The ambitious pledge by the government followed the release a
day earlier of a briefing paper by Shelter and the End Child
Poverty coalition that highlighted the scale of the problem.

‘Child Poverty, Housing and Homelessness’ revealed that more
than 100,000 children and up to 81,250 families are homeless and
living in temporary accommodation in England, a rise of 86 per cent
since 1997. It also found that more than one million families with
children are living in poor and overcrowded housing, with 12,000
families in long-term bed and breakfast accommodation.

The government has already made moves to address the issue. From
next April, child tax credit (CTC) is to be streamlined, pulling
together all elements of support payments and benefits. It
represents a £5 billion investment over the next two years and
one that Martin Barnes, director of the Child Poverty Action Group,
describes as the most significant for family and child support
since Beveridge.

“There has been a paradigm shift in that we have a chancellor
that wants to tackle child poverty and spend money to do so,”
Barnes said.

But Graeme Brown, development director at End Child Poverty,
believes that while the CTC reforms will have a significant benefit
for the 3.9 million children living below the poverty line, housing
quality also needs to be addressed.

“Inadequate facilities and overcrowding impacts on
children’s education, health outcomes and their self esteem,”
he adds.

Brown said that central to reducing the number of families and
children in temporary accommodation is the need to build more
social housing. “Children in temporary housing are effectively
children in a queue – the long-term issue is that there is
not enough supply in the system.”

During July’s spending review, Gordon Brown announced
£1.4 billion of investment in building more social housing,
with particular priority given to essential public sector

But Shelter believes the money should go to those most in need
– it estimates 90,000 new homes are needed for the
country’s homeless.

Ben Jackson, Shelter’s director of external affairs, said:
“The government must act now and make sure every child has a decent
home and proper chance in life – no child must be denied
opportunity as a result of bad housing.”

John Prescott’s Communities Plan, due for release early
next year, will set the government’s agenda for increasing
the stock of social housing and outline how it will spend the
£1.4 billion.

Paul Jenks, chairperson of the Local Government
Association’s housing executive, said the plan will indicate
how serious the government is about tackling the problem and
dictate whether the new plan to limit the use of bed and breakfast
accommodation will work.

Ministers believe the increase in local government funding will
pay for councils to find alternative accommodation for families,
but Shelter and the LGA argue that more funding is needed.

“Council’s put people into B&Bs out of necessity not
choice,” Jenks said. “B&Bs have their place, but in London
particularly there’s a lack of affordable alternative
accommodation for them to go.”

The government is also consulting over how it measures
children’s poverty. With a government obsessed with setting
itself targets the definition it decides on will be key in judging
whether it tackles the problem effectively.

This in turn will affect the outcome of the Children and Young
People’s Unit’s children’s strategy, which will
set five key life outcomes for children that councils will have to
try and meet when delivering services.

Sue Lewis, deputy director of the CYPU, said that material
well-being of a child will be one of the outcomes when the strategy
is published in May.

“A number of groups said we should include material well-being
in the strategy, and child poverty will be an important aspect of
it, but in terms of devising underlying indicators we have to know
how to measure poverty,” Lewis adds.

‘Child Poverty, Housing and Homelessness’ from www.ecpc.org.uk

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