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England struggles with housing shortage

Families in limbo amid growing homelessness

LONDON: Sandra Rumkiene poses sitting with her young daughter Jessica in their bedroom in Connect House sheltered housing in Mitcham south west London, on November 20, 2017. — AFP

LONDON: In a cramped apartment in an industrial zone in south London, Sandra Rumkiene recounts her struggles to bring up a baby as one of a growing number of poor families forced to live in temporary housing. Lorries race past Rumkiene’s building at all hours and the 84 apartments, housed in a chilly converted office rented by the state through a private landlord, is near a waste plant whose stench wafts in.

“It’s like God forgot about this place,” she said. “At least we have a roof, but we only worry about the baby because she’s developing really slow,” said the 32-year-old, tearfully, explaining that the stress of her current situation leaves her unable to eat. Hers is one of 78,180 households in England considered on the verge of homelessness and in need of temporary accommodation this year, according to official figures in a parliamentary report in June.
‘Desperate’ for homes

The situation for families has worsened since Britain’s Conservative government came to power in 2010, with the number of households living in temporary accommodation jumping 60 percent since 2011. The measure is meant to be a stop-gap for families and other vulnerable people before they are placed in permanent social housing, but a lack of suitable homes has left some people stuck in dire conditions.

Finance Minister Philip Hammond in his budget announcement this week promised to “fix the broken housing market” and pledged capital funding, loans and guarantees totalling £44 billion (49.4 billion euros, $58.5 billion) over five years. Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, put the crisis down to the high costs of housing coupled with the failure to build enough homes in recent years.

“I’ve seen good times and I’ve seen bad times, and I’ve never seen things quite as hard as they are at the moment,” McDonagh, from the main opposition Labour Party, told AFP. She described local councils as “desperate” for accommodation and said the current system is having an untold impact on people’s mental health. Local authorities in England spent £845 million on temporary accommodation in 2015-16, up by 39 percent in real terms since 2010-2011, according to a September report by the National Audit Office.

Four to a bed
At the building in the industrial area in Mitcham, Victoria Abiodun, 41, said she has been moved to four different places over two years and has been in her current home for 14 months.

She shares a bed with her two girls and newborn placed on a baby mat, while her husband and 10-year-old son have bunk beds. “Life is very difficult for us,” she told AFP, clutching her three-week-old baby to her chest. Like other mothers, Abiodun said she worried about her children’s safety where there is nowhere to play but the corridors or car park.

“You don’t want to leave your children for one second,” she said. The family has tried to find a home to rent privately but Abiodun said her husband does not earn the £40,000 salary that property agents require for a contract.
Peter Mackie, a lecturer at Cardiff University, said wide-ranging measures were needed to make the private renting sector more secure, as well as building homes which are truly affordable.

While temporary accommodation offers a safety net to stop families ending up on the streets, he said an overhaul of the system needs to guarantee good quality homes.

“The problem is we don’t have a piece of legislation to require local authorities to accommodate people in good quality temporary accommodation,” he said. Rumkiene has been living in Mitcham since January and has been told the council is unable to offer any better accommodation, leaving her in limbo. “Our Christmas last year was really terrible, because we were staying in emergency accommodation, and this year as well we cannot make anything special.” – AFP

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