Temporary accommodation may have been contributory factor in 55 child deaths

Fifty-five children – mostly aged under one – have died in recent years where living in temporary accommodation has been recorded as a possible contributory factor, campaigners said.

The figure, from the Households in Temporary Accommodation All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) relating to the period from April 1 2019 to March 31 2023, has been branded “a stark indictment of our housing crisis”.

It is up from the figure of 34 in the APPG report last year which covered the period until the end of March 2022.

While 21 additional deaths have been uncovered, they are believed to have happened across the four-year period rather than between March 2022 and 2023.

Of the 55 deaths, 42 were children under the age of one while 13 were of children aged between one and 17, the APPG said.

Twelve of the deaths were in London and 43 elsewhere in England, it added.

Homelessness and temporary accommodation were recorded by the Child Death Overview Panel (CDOP) as factors that may have contributed to the child’s vulnerability, ill health or death in each case.

It comes after the latest Government figures, published last week, showed there were a total of 142,490 children living in temporary accommodation at the end of September last year – another record high.

The APPG said lack of access to a cot in temporary accommodation, coupled with overcrowding, exposure to poor conditions such as damp and mould, poverty, uncertainty and repeated change are all considered to be possible causes of the unexpected deaths.

Labour MP Dame Siobhain McDonagh (pictured), who chairs the APPG, said she had seen living conditions which are “unfit” for people to be placed in, describing the current situation as “the wild west”.

She said: “It is shocking that in the fifth largest economy in the world, children are dying because of the accommodation they are being housed in.

“We cannot accept that. It is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to temporary accommodation. I see it in my advice surgery every week.

“Councils are under extraordinary pressure. They have an ever-growing list of homeless families waiting for accommodation and an ever-smaller pool of housing to put them in. That means councils are forced to house people in inhumane conditions.

“Some of the conditions that I see are unfit for anyone to live in, let alone a child. It is the wild west out there. Whatever your political leaning, it is time to say enough is enough. None of this will change until we build enough social housing and regulate temporary accommodation.”

Dr Laura Neilson, chief executive of Shared Health which is one of the co-ordinators of the APPG, said, “It is unbelievably sad to hear that more families have been devastated through a sudden child death whilst living in temporary accommodation and there are likely more not yet identified in the data set.

“As clinicians, politicians, local government and citizens, we must act now to prevent any more of these tragedies.”

Simon Gale, chief executive of the Justlife Foundation, which helped set up the APPG, said “The loss of 55 lives – equivalent to two classrooms of children – serves as a stark indictment of our housing crisis.

“Despite the gravity of the situation, we have yet to treat it as the emergency it is. This should serve as a wake-up call and we are urging the Government to establish a task force to comprehensively address this systemic failure.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities described the findings as “completely shocking”.

They said: “Our guidance to councils is clear that all temporary accommodation must be safe and suitable for families with babies and have enough space for a cot.

“We will continue to work with the APPG and councils on this important issue.”

Darren Rodwell, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said: “Having a safe, secure, permanent home is the bedrock of any child getting the very best start in life, so it is tragic that thousands of children are having to live in temporary accommodation.

“Last year, councils spent £1.74 billion to support 104,000 households in temporary accommodation, the highest figures since records began.

“The only way to resolve this issue is to address the shortage of suitable housing across the country and build up councils’ stock of social housing.”

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