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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