It is an “abuse of human rights” that in the sixth richest economy thousands of people are living in “Dickensian conditions”, David Lammy has said.
An astonishing 78,180 households are living in temporary accommodation (TA), such as hostels and BnBs, and that means 120,170 children do not have a permanent home, MPs heard during a debate in Parliament on the “hidden” epidemic.
The Tottenham Labour MP hit out at the dearth of social homes in the country and voiced anger that a measly ten social homes were built in Grenfell-hit Kensington and Chelsea with council cash since 1990.
“Over the years, I have heard horror stories (about TA) of needles found in stairwells, of children sharing bathrooms with strangers, of vulnerable women being abused and exploited - and in the end this story comes back to a chronic problem of a decimation in our social housing,” he said.
A Local Government Association analysis found as much as £2m-a-day was being spent on TA by councils, amounting to around £2.6 billion in the past three years.
Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, who secured the debate, said: “Perhaps the most visible indication of the broken housing market is the thousands of people sleeping on our streets, but the homelessness crisis this country faces is far greater, and it is hidden.
“Hidden in hostels, hidden in B ‘n’ Bs and hidden in the heart of an industrial estate.”
McDonagh called for a designated officer for homeless families and for local authorities to be held accountable for regulating temporary accommodation.
Lammy said: “Does she think that it is an abuse of human rights that in the sixth richest economy in the world we’ve got so many people living in these Dickensian conditions?”
He went on to say two families in his constituency had been living in TA for more than 10 years.
“Temporary accommodation is becoming permanent accommodation,” he said.
He hit out at the sale of social housing under the right-to-buy scheme and said just 1,102 social homes were built with government money in England since 2016, adding: “The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea - the borough that has been at the centre of the Grenfell storm - built just ten new council-funded social homes since 1990.”
One in ten households have been in TA for more than five years and for some families in the London boroughs of Harrow and Camden the period was as long as 19 years.
More than 28% of households in TA were housed outside their local authority area, an increase of 248% between March 2011 and March 2017.
Labour MP Frank Field branded the movement of families “worse than the Poor Law”.
He said: “In the Poor Law you were sent back to the village they thought you came from, under these rules you’re sent to any old village or city aren’t you, providing the local authority can actually dump families on them.”
Wes Streeting said youngsters in cramped TA in his constituency of Ilford North were experiencing mental health problems because of the conditions.
One mother lived in one room in a hostel with her 15-year-old daughter.
“Her daughter was preparing for her GCSEs but was having to revise for her exams and do her homework under the duvet with a torch at night,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see families live in those kinds of conditions.”
Streeting was also approached by an 11-year-old boy for help during a school visit, he said.
“I went to the head teacher’s office and I met with him,” he said. “The reason he wanted to see me, he said ‘you grew up in a council flat, didn’t you? Can you help me and my mum and my two brothers, because we currently live in one room in a hostel’.”
He added: “This country is going backwards not forwards, and it is simply intolerable.”
Bob Blackman, Tory MP for Harrow East, said many households struggle to scrape together a deposit for a rented property but that 32,000 families in England could benefit if the Government invests £31 million a year into a project to help.
He said such a scheme could save the temporary accommodation budget £1.8 billion over three years.
Housing Minister Marcus Jones said the Government was making progress on getting people out of TA but was “not complacent” and had set up a homelessness reduction task force to tackle the issue.
“The quality of TA is of course extremely important,” he said, saying councils had a legal duty to provide good housing.
“We are committed to ending rough sleeping and reducing homelessness overall and we are therefore setting up a homelessness reduction task force,” he added.
In October, Theresa May announced a £2bn pot of grant money to build affordable housing, stating councils and housing associations can bid for the cash to build, and in areas with high rent, the homes can be social rent, rather than “affordable” rents, which can be up to 80% of market rent.