Human rights

Rights group slams government for ‘uninhabitable’ social housing in Southwark

Hundreds of Southwark families are living in temporary accommodation which has been denounced as unsanitary by a leading human rights group.

Families in Southwark live in ‘uninhabitable’ temporary accommodation, according to a damning report by Human Rights Watch and the Childhood Trust, writes Joshua Askew…

The 51-page report, titled ‘I want us to live like humans again’, describes how children are growing up with toxic mould, cold temperatures and a lack of adequate space, while criticizing the government for not having provided adequate housing for the homeless. families.

“These poor conditions violate the right to adequate housing and children’s rights to an adequate standard of living,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

After being placed by Southwark Council in temporary out-of-borough accommodation in Croydon, the youngest of Layla’s four daughters, Israa, 6, developed acute respiratory problems, despite having no pre-existing health conditions .

“The house had a mold problem,” Layla explained. “Israa’s room was the worst room in the whole house. It was unimaginable. »

Israa was recently diagnosed with asthma and obstructive sleep apnea, as well as nose surgery to relieve her irregular breathing.

When Layla raised the mold issue with Southwark Council, she says they told her it was only temporary accommodation and she wouldn’t be there forever.

She stayed there for three years.

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for social housing and homelessness at Southwark Council, said: “London is in the throes of a spiraling homelessness crisis.

“Government welfare reforms, coupled with astronomical rent levels in the private sector, which far exceed LHA rates, have made the housing market increasingly unaffordable.

“This leaves people with no choice but to seek help from local authorities, and an inevitable over-reliance on temporary accommodation.”

The housing crisis not only affects children’s health, but also their mental well-being and education.

“Space to play is a luxury,” said Francesca, another mother who was placed in a single room with her three-year-old daughter in Lewisham by Southwark Council. Her daughter just had to sit on the floor next to the bed and do nothing all day.

This situation has been made worse by school closures during Covid-19 as children lack a quiet environment to concentrate and do their work. Many of those interviewed in the report also said their temporary accommodation lacked Wi-Fi.

But the problem is not unique to the borough of Southwark. Human Rights Watch interviewed 75 people living in temporary accommodation in London, including Camden, Croydon, Hackney and Lambeth.

In Wandsworth, 15-year-old Jada fell seriously ill with pneumonia while living in a metal container building whose bedroom wall had cracks that let in cold temperatures during the winter.

Millions have signed up for temporary accommodation – but most people will be housed outside Southwark

Human Rights Watch blamed the situation on the government.

“The situation is due to a combination of reduced funding for local authorities, cuts to the welfare system driven by austerity and a lack of affordable permanent housing,” they said in a statement.

The central government cut its funding to local authorities by 37% between 2009-10 and 2018-19, with London facing the biggest cuts.

“Our budgets have been reduced year on year,” said Southwark Cllr Stephanie Cryan. “It is unacceptable that children and families are bearing the human cost of the cuts and I call on the government to increase the local housing allowance.”

“We continue to increase supply and refuse to ignore our moral obligation to provide the high quality housing residents deserve,” she added.

Another contributing factor is the lack of social and affordable housing in London.

“Successive governments have utterly failed to address the housing crisis,” said Laurence Guinness, chief executive of Childhood Trust.

“Children suffer appalling violations of their rights with devastating consequences for their health, education and life chances,” he added.

In October 2021, 42,290 families were living in temporary accommodation in London.

In Southwark alone, more than 16,500 households are on a waiting list for accommodation, with half of those families having children.