Thousands Of Children Living In Shipping Containers, Office Blocks And B&Bs

Scale of family homelessness laid bare in 'Bleak Houses' report by Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield.
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Thousands of children whose families face homelessness are living in converted shipping containers, office blocks and B&Bs, an alarming new report reveals.

The study by Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield estimates there could be as many as 210,000 homeless children in England, with 124,000 in temporary housing and 90,000 part of “sofa surfing” families.

Longfield’s ‘Bleak Houses’ report also found that temporary housing is often not fit for human habitation, dangerous or very far away from their friends, family and school.

Shipping containers are being re-purposed for use as temporary accommodation, the report found, leading to cramped conditions and shifting temperatures during the seasons.

Some parents also voiced fears about antisocial behaviour in the surrounding areas, forcing them to keep their children inside the small units instead.

“It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time, or to sofa surf.””

- Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing and homelessness charity Shelter, called the analysis “damning” and said homelessness was “robbing… children of a decent childhood”.

“No child should be spending months if not years living in a converted shipping container, a dodgy old office block or an emergency B&B,” she said.

“But a cocktail of punitive welfare policies, a woeful lack of social homes and wildly expensive private rents mean this is frighteningly commonplace.

“We constantly hear from struggling families forced to accept unsuitable, and sometimes downright dangerous accommodation because they have nowhere else to go.

“The devastating impact this has on a child’s development and wellbeing cannot be overstated.”


Children and families told of the “deeply disruptive impact” moving away can have, with some 23,000 families in 2018 housed in temporary accommodation outside of their home council area.

The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield also expressed concerns about B&Bs used a temporary accommodation, creating “intimidating and potentially unsafe environments” for children.

Anne Longfield
Anne Longfield
PA Wire/PA Images

The bathroom in B&Bs is often shared with other residents and vulnerable adults, including those with mental health or drug abuse problems.

Of the 2,420 families known to be living in B&Bs in December 2018, a third had been there for more than six weeks – despite this being unlawful.

Analysis in the report, released on Wednesday, found that in 2017, around two in five children in temporary accommodation had been there for at least six months.

Around one in 20 – an estimated 6,000 children – had been there for at least a year.

The report warns that a further 375,000 children in England are in households that have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments, putting them at financial risk of becoming homeless in the future.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, added: “No child should be facing school again this September with no home to live in.

“The number of homeless children has gone up every year since 2010 and the commissioner’s stark warning that over 200,000 children now have no home should make ministers hang their heads in shame.”

Longfield said children had shared some disturbing experiences with her researchers as she called on government to act.

“Something has gone very wrong with our housing system when children are growing up in B&Bs, shipping containers and old office blocks,” she said.

“Children have told us of the disruptive and at times frightening impact this can have on their lives.

“It is a scandal that a country as prosperous as ours is leaving tens of thousands of families in temporary accommodation for long periods of time, or to sofa surf.”

The government has previously acknowledged the UK’s housing crisis and ministers have said £1.2bn is being invested to tackle all forms of homelessness and £9bn was being pumped into an affordable housing programme.


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