The Bleak Houses report from the Children’s Commissioner for England has criticised poor living conditions in converted shipping containers, which are used by local councils to temporarily house the homeless.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, who was reporting on children affected by homelessness, described “office block conversions, in which whole families live in single rooms barely bigger than a parking space, and shipping containers which are blisteringly hot in summer and freezing in the winter months.”
Longfield found that there was often anti-social behaviour in the areas around the containers—which are usually put in sites awaiting future development—making them unsuitable for children. In some B&Bs used for temporary housing, bathrooms were shared with vulnerable adults who could have mental health or drug abuse problems.
Some children and adults were found to have spent more than six months in shipping containers, office blocks or B&Bs—well beyond the lawful six-week limit.
The containers have been used or planned for use in Cardiff, Bristol, Wrexham and parts of London. A mother of two who spoke to Sky News, and had been living in a shipping container since December, said her family were all forced to sleep in one bed and that she had been washing her baby in the kitchen sink as they had no bathtub. Dripping condensation was also a problem due to the heat.
A spokesperson from the Local Government Association blamed a funding gap of £159 million, with councils forced to use temporary accommodation due to a lack of social rented homes.
The report concluded by urging for improved accommodation standards, more investment in house-building and no delays in payments of Universal Credit, as well as a formal target set by the government for reducing the number of children in temporary accommodation.
Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, said that housing benefit needed to be increased and three million more social homes built.