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Wednesday, 06 December 2017

'National scandal' of 128,000 children spending Christmas Day homeless

Written by Thomas Hornall

Some 128,000 children will wake up homeless in Britain on Christmas Day - the highest number in a decade, according to a leading housing charity.

The figure, which has jumped by two-thirds since 2011, was labelled a "national scandal" by Shelter chief executive Polly Neate.

Families shunted into temporary accommodation are rocked by "psychological turmoil" with children often suffering from feelings of anxiety, shame and fear, the charity said.

The Shelter report comes amid the first sustained increases in child and pensioner poverty for 20 years.

Almost 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners are living in poverty than four years ago, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Ms Neate said: "It's a national scandal that the number of homeless children in Britain has risen every year for the last decade.

"Many of us will spend Christmas day enjoying all of the festive traditions we cherish, but sadly it'll be a different story for the children hidden away in cramped B&Bs or hostel rooms."

Families placed into emergency B&Bs and hostels often live in a single room, with parents sharing the bed with children, the Shelter report found.

Several parents also said their child's mental and physical health had declined since they became homeless - citing bed bug infestations, broken heating, and stress.

Ellie, 15, told Shelter about the problems of living in a cramped room with her whole family.

She said: "It's hard to concentrate at school because there's the worry about coming home. It's just stressful.

"There's nowhere we can relax or get any privacy. Before it was much better.

"We had our own home right near school and right near our friends. We all had our own rooms and a cooker and a fridge. We could eat proper meals. I just want it to be like it was before."

Almost half of families in England placed into B&Bs stay beyond the legal six-week limit, the charity added.

Shelter said: "Most of us are unaware of how homeless children live. Families rarely experience the most visible symptom of homelessness - having to sleep rough.

"They are often embarrassed to even let relatives or friends see where they are having to live."

Ms Neate added: "No child should have to spend Christmas without a home - let alone 128,000 children."

An NSPCC spokesman said: "Shelter has exposed the devastating impact on children of losing a roof over their head.

"It's frightening to think the anxiety felt by some children leads to them feeling ashamed, or even considering taking their own life.

"For any child struggling to cope in this situation, Childline is available, free and at any time of day or night, to help them talk through their worries."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government added: "This Government is committed to breaking the homelessness cycle once and for all, and is working with Shelter and others to do this.

"We're providing over £1 billion until 2020 to tackle the issue and are implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act - the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

"Councils have a duty to provide safe, secure and suitable temporary accommodation. This means that people are getting help now and no family is without a roof over their head this Christmas."

To support Shelter's Christmas appeal visit www.shelter.org.uk or text SHELTER to 70080 to donate £3.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture - Louis Williams with his letter to Santa asking for a ‘forever home’ - (c) Shelter / PA Wire.