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Housing

‘There were cockroaches’: Children on life in temporary accommodation

Young people in Birmingham talked about being placed in low-quality temporary accommodation as campaigners call for more housing

Imagine having two rooms for all six members of your family and eating from a shared kitchen with others living in bed and breakfast temporary accommodation

Not ideal at the best of times. Now factor in the Covid-19 pandemic, with the difficulties of social distancing and constant fear of coronavirus. 

This was the case for 12-year-old Aya, a schoolgirl from Birmingham, and her family, who found themselves homeless in the middle of the first national lockdown. 

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“The landlord told us to leave because he wanted to sell the house,” she explained, in an event run by campaign group CitizensUK. The charity is calling for more temporary and affordable accommodation in the UK and giving those affected a voice to share their story.

“He pressurised my parents to hand over the keys. They were stuck and they could not find anywhere we could afford. So, our family turned to the council for help. They were only able to put us in an emergency bed and breakfast.” 

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The event, run by the Birmingham branch of CitizensUK, was attended by West Midlands mayor Andy Street and Labour candidate Liam Byrne who is vying to replace him during May’s local elections

The local leaders were quizzed on their housing policies and if they would make a commitment to build more temporary accommodation and affordable homes in the West Midlands region. 

Charities have warned housing waiting lists are growing and according to the Local Government Association, 127,240 children lived in temporary accommodation during England’s third national lockdown, including 1,440 households with children in bed and breakfasts around the country. 

These statistics were brought into sharp focus this week after BirminghamLive reported that 11-year-old Issac, who also spoke at the event, was put up in a Travelodge in Manchester after Birmingham City Council failed to find suitable housing in the city.

After his family lost their home, they were forced to wake up at  5 am each day for two months to make the journey to school.

“My name is Isaac and I just turned 11 years old,” he told the mayoral candidates. “I live in homeless temporary accommodation with my mom, brother and three sisters.” 

“Before, we used to live in a regular home. But because it had a lot of mice, it wasn’t suitable for us to live in. So, my mom decided that we needed to move somewhere else urgently.”

Issac said that due to his family’s low income, they had to rely on the council for a roof over their head. They have stayed in eight different places over the course of seven years, he said, including the Travelodge in Manchester he called home for two months. 

“A year ago, we were in a bed and breakfast, we were all in one room, all six of us,” he went on. 

“There were not enough bed spaces. I slept on the top bunk because there were cockroaches, and I didn’t like it. 

Issac now lives in a temporary flat which costs his mum £230 per week in rent to the council. 

Because she is on Universal Credit she has to ask for extra help, the 11-year-old said. 

CitizensUK told The Big Issue that while this is just the experience of two children, it gives a rare glimpse into what life is like for thousands of families up and down the country. 

As well as asking mayoral candidates to pledge to build more homes in Birmingham, Citizens UK is one of a number of organisations proposing a new affordable housing “kickstarter fund” with funding from central Government to help get more temporary and affordable homes built. 

They said a community-led house building fund could “unlock” more than 6,000 acres of land for 30,000 genuinely affordable homes and social housing. 

Caroline Verdant, a teacher and affordable housing campaigner with Citizens UK said: “Heart-wrenching stories like Isaac’s are all too common. Big infrastructure investments haven’t delivered enough affordable homes, so politicians need to work with civil society to unlock more land for housing.”

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “There is a national housing crisis which has created significant challenges for all local authorities – and in particular high demand areas like Birmingham.

“However, most of our Temporary accommodation is good quality self-contained accommodation or our own supported hostels.

“We have also ensured that the vast majority in bed and breakfast hotels are accommodated in superior establishments that provide key working areas for statutory wrap-around support.

“Our strategy going forward is very prevention focussed. We are working closely with private landlords to  expand our portfolio to source good quality and affordable accommodation through our Help to Rent scheme and running a number of additional schemes that enable households to remain in their home.”

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