Change it! Young Activist tells her story
The aim of Change it! is to stop children being sent to live in B&Bs for long periods of time. It is supported by the Children's Rights Alliance for England. I joined the campaign in September 2017 because I want to speak out about my experience of being homeless and life in a B&B.
More and more children and families are experiencing homelessness. 40,140 households with dependent children were homeless in 2016/17, up from 38,040 in the previous year and 70 per cent more than in 2009/10 (22,950).[i] The impact of living in a temporary accommodation can be devastating to a child, having an impact on their mental health, physical health and education. Despite a ban on local authorities accommodating homeless families and pregnant women in B&Bs for longer than six weeks, local authorities are continuing to break the law.[ii] At the end of June 2017, government statistics showed that 2,710 families with dependent children (including pregnant women) were living in B&B accommodation. Nearly four times that at the end of June 2010 (740).[iii]
In February 2016, when I was 16, my family and I became homeless. We were placed in a B&B nearly 25 miles outside our local area and not suitable for a family of our size. There were no cooking facilities or fridge, so we had to buy fast food every day, which was very expensive. The heating rarely worked and it was extremely cold at night. My mum, my two brothers (four and six years old), my sister (14 years old) and I had to live in two small rooms. Both my brothers have serious medical conditions and the B&B was not safe or appropriate to meet their needs. My youngest brother has a genetic disorder and bone disability and while we lived in the B&B he had to share a bed with our mum. In June 2016, my brother, who was six years old at the time, had an operation. When he was discharged he needed to use a walking frame as he had casts on both his legs. At the entrance to the B&B there were stairs, about 10 steps in total. A ramp was provided that was supposed to lift wheelchair users to the end of the stairs, but in the time that we lived there it never worked. This meant my mum and I had to lift my brother up the stairs in his wheelchair. As well as being physically very difficult for us, it put him at risk of falling and undoing the work of the operation.
Being placed out of our area was a huge strain on my family. My brother’s operation took place in the hospital in our previous local area, nearly 25 miles away from the B&B. Making the journey to visit him was not only exhausting, but added more financial costs for us to cope with. It also had a huge impact on my and my siblings’ education. School transport was not arranged by the council for about two months after the move. We were forced to take a taxi and then a train at peak time to get to school – costs we could not manage. As a result, we all missed many school days. Nothing was ever arranged for my hour-and-a-half journey to college or for my youngest brother’s journey to nursery as it was not compulsory for us to go. I had wanted to apply to university to study law and languages, but the conditions I was living in affected my studies and my grades became too low to apply. Everything was terribly expensive and our benefit payments were not sufficient to cover the costs. By the end of the six months my mum owed family and friends around £7,000, adding more stress and worry to our lives.
The council has finally moved us to a flat and we have been living here for a year. Although it is slightly better, it only has two bedrooms, no washing machine and a tiny fridge. Most of the food has to be placed outside on the balcony. Until recently, there was no furniture in the living room so we had our meals on the floor. My youngest brother has now had two operations on his spine, and because of this he should only have showers, but we just have a bath. There is asbestos in the ceiling so the council cannot install the equipment that my brother needs. The place is not clean and it is in a bad neighbourhood to be living in.
The aim of sharing my story is to raise awareness of what children and young people experience in B&Bs. Many families have experiences similar or worse to the ones I have shared here. Getting involved in the Change it! campaign has given me the opportunity to be heard. I’ve spoken with MPs and decision makers and learnt new ways to take action. Change it! is unique to me because it is really unusual for us, young people, to be listened to and to have the opportunity to confront adults on such an important issue, the housing crisis in England. But we are experts too, and through Change It! we have been able to speak out about the unknown and unseen reality of temporary accommodation. But more needs to be done to address this issue and protect children and young people.
[i] Department for Communities and Local Government, Statutory Homelessness and Prevention and Relief: acceptances and decision live tables, September 2017,Table 773
[ii] The Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012
[iii] Department for Communities and Local Government, Statutory Homelessness and Prevention and Relief: temporary accommodation live tables, Q2 End of June 2017 to Q2 End of June 2010, September 2017, Table 775, England