Nearly half of families who are placed in temporary housing when they become homeless are forced to put their children into new schools or spend several hours a day taking them to and from their current school, according to new research.
The disruption caused by being placed miles from their original home harms children’s academic performance and emotional wellbeing, according to the study by Shelter, the housing charity. Over a third of children have missed more than a month of school after being placed in temporary accommodation.
The findings were part of a study carried out to gauge the impact on homeless families of living for long periods in poor quality temporary flats, hostels, bedsits and hotel rooms, often far from family support networks.
“Depriving children of space to play, interrupting their education and cutting them off from friendships can cause lasting harm to kids’ emotional, behavioural and academic development. Ultimately, this undermines their life chances,” it concludes.
Temporary accommodation was originally meant to provide an emergency stopgap to put up homeless families for a short period while their council found a suitable permanent home for them locally. However, use of temporary housing has doubled over the past decade, with thousands of families placed far from their home area.
Latest figures show almost 100,000 households were in temporary accommodation in England, including 125,000 children, a 67% rise over the past 10 years. The cost has also spiralled, with spending on temporary accommodation hitting £1.6bn last year – a rise of 61% in five years.
Families often spend long periods in temporary housing – 68% for more than a year – and some spend several years there. They are frequently shuffled between properties, often with as little as 48 hours’ notice, and endure poor conditions, often lacking basic cooking and laundry facilities.
Despite being placed “out of borough”, many families insist on keeping their children at the school at which they are settled, despite the early starts and lengthy travel times – over an hour each way for one in five families. They said this meant their children arrived for lessons tired, late and hungry.
One survey respondent said: “It takes 5-6 hours a day for my son to go to school and come back also … my son’s education has been extremely damaged as he spends most of his time travelling and when he comes back home he has no time for revision. This led to him not performing as good as he could in his GCSE.”
Homeless families in London are far more likely to be placed in temporary accommodation, to be placed out of area, and to stay there for longer, the research says, although the rest of England is increasingly making use of temporary housing, warns Shelter.
“The situation facing London families left for years in substandard temporary accommodation, and London local authorities having to shell out extortionate sums for substandard ‘temporary’ solutions, is a stark warning to the whole of England about what failures in national housing policy can lead to,” the report says.
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One of the most notorious cases that came to light in recent years involved a homeless family from Birmingham who were temporarily housed in a Manchester hotel. They took their son on a 170 mile round trip to his primary school each weekday for two months, waking at 5am and leaving at 6am.
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “Living in temporary accommodation is hugely traumatic. Homeless families’ lives are being derailed as they’re shunted from one place to the next, often with little notice to pack up their lives and pull their kids out of school.”
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was approached for comment.