Housing children should be a duty.


    Former housing minister Sally Keeble is Labour MP for
    Northampton North.

    Tougher laws are needed to prevent vulnerable women and children
    falling to the bottom of the housing ladder.

    Despite efforts to tighten safeguards, the most vulnerable still
    slip between the Children Act 1989 and the
    Homelessness Act 2002. They end up in a world of temporary
    accommodation, refuges and the worst low demand housing. Ruled
    intentionally homeless, or disqualified for immigration reasons,
    they are shut out of social housing. And recent legal cases and
    wider public policy trends are making matters worse.

    Children’s policy has a blind spot when it comes to housing. Social
    services have a duty to assess the needs of homeless children, but
    not to meet them. A House of Lords’ judgement in October 2003 said
    the duties in the Children Act were general and did not impose a
    mandatory duty on a local authority to take specific steps to
    satisfy the needs of a particular child. Social services
    departments could not become a surrogate housing department.

    The green paper Every Child Matters identifies
    homelessness as a risk factor for children, but has no proposals to
    deal with it. The Children Bill provides a chance to update
    legislation and to clarify the duties on social services to ensure
    that children are not left homeless. This would mean ensuring that,
    under the sections promoting the welfare of children, there was a
    specific duty to find individual children somewhere suitable to

    Meanwhile, increasingly punitive attitudes towards antisocial
    behaviour are making life harder. Difficult families are more
    likely to lose their council tenancies because of antisocial
    behaviour, or to be subjected to one of the range of new court
    orders, which will make it hard to obtain references for private
    sector tenancies.

    So, if these families are to have a more settled future and break
    out of the cycle of poverty, homelessness and antisocial behaviour,
    there is the need for both a new legislative framework and some new
    housing options.

    A combination of weak legal safeguards and tough social attitudes
    are closing the social housing door on some of the most vulnerable
    children and families. Social inclusion means finding routes back
    for them.

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