Children and families who are experiencing homelessness are facing severe risk, risk that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is an urgent need to address the lack of adequate and decent temporary accommodation, and add capacity to the health system to support all families experiencing homelessness. This must also include tackling the underlying social and economic inequities trapping people, families and communities in cycles of poverty, poor health and despair.

This petition has been created by Specialist Health Visitors working with families experiencing homelessness supported by the Queen’s Nursing Institute. Will you join us in calling for the Government to:

  • Conduct an immediate Government Inquiry into the plight of families experiencing homelessness in temporary accommodation
  • Guarantee that individuals and families who are destitute are always placed in accommodation, no matter what their immigration status
  • Ensure children who are experiencing homelessness are given automatic health and education rights
  • Provide priority access to NHS services for children experiencing homelessness, ensuring that a lack of ability to provide address ID is never a barrier to services
  • Increase the number of specialist Health Visitors and School Nurses, to meet the needs of the increasing number of families experiencing homelessness
  • Recognise homelessness as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)

TO: ROBERT JENRICK, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government; MATT HANCOCK, Secretary of State for Health; GAVIN WILLIAMSON, Secretary of State for Education

We, the undersigned, represent health visitors and other specialist professionals working with families who are experiencing homelessness. We are writing to raise concerns about the continuing plight of families who are homeless, which has been thrown into sharp focus during the COVID 19 pandemic.

There are 135,000 children living homeless in temporary accommodation across Britain, with a child becoming homeless every 8 minutes, and 183 becoming homeless every day, according to Shelter. This is the highest it has been in 12 years and 51% increase over the previous 5 years. This does not include the unknown number of families that are ‘sofa surfing’. 1

Barriers to children's wellbeing and safety during COVID-19 outbreak

Children and families who are experiencing homelessness are facing severe risks. Families have been forced to live in one room during the pandemic, with shared kitchens and bathrooms. Others have been forced to share substandard temporary accommodation placements with people who have drug and alcohol problems and behavioural issues. Families that have moved into suitable accommodation have often lost their support networks making it harder for them to keep to appointments. They often also face significant distances to travel to work and school, creating huge stress and exclusion from services.

Limited areas for play and exercise have impacted on child development. Lack of access to the internet is adversely affecting educational outcomes, compounding the access to education issues caused by distance learning. Domestic violence issues have increased as victims have been forced to live in close proximity to potential perpetrators. Access to GPs has also reduced, due to problems of registering with new GP practices, impacting the ability of children to have their health reviews undertaken by health professionals. 

All these issues apply equally to families that are sofa surfing.

Mitigating the lack of access to healthcare and harm

There is an urgent need to address the lack of adequate and decent temporary accommodation, and add capacity to the health system to support all families experiencing homelessness. It is known that there has been a significant reduction in specialist Health Visitors at a time when the number of families who are homeless has hugely increased. Unless addressed this will create lasting long-term harm to the health of children and their families, in addition to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We join the calls being made by the Shared Health Foundation and the Children’s Commissioners Office to address and protect the health of children and families who are experiencing homelessness. 

In order to address these issues the Government needs to urgently:

  • Conduct an immediate Government Inquiry into the plight of families experiencing homelessness in temporary accommodation, to examine the key issues and set essential standards and regulation around these that include:
    • Out of Borough placements
    • Long stays
    • Substandard accommodation
    • Mixing of single people and families
    • Notification of transfers to health care professionals e.g. Health Visitors
    • The lack of support for ‘hidden homeless’ families 
  • Guarantee that destitute individuals and families are always placed in accommodation, no matter what their immigration status
  • Ensure children who are experiencing homelessness are given automatic health and education rights (e.g. free school meals, travel costs, school uniforms, subsistence support, additional education support and system advocacy)
  • Ensure priority access to NHS services for children experiencing homelessness, ensuring that a lack of ability to provide address ID is never a barrier to services
  • Increase the number of specialist Health Visitors and School Nurses, to meet the needs of the increasing number of families experiencing homelessness
  • Recognise homelessness as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) – and thus predictive of mental and physical health risk and worsening social outcomes

Yours sincerely,
 

The undersigned

References

  1. Shelter, 2019
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