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At Danielle Prescott’s flat in Manor Park, east London, the children’s bedroom is a cheerful, bunting-strewn space, with toys neatly stacked in pink plastic containers.
The solitary single bed, however, boasts a stuffed monkey at one end and a doll at the other — a sign that her son and daughter, aged four and seven, sleep head to toe in a room less than 6 ft 7 in (two metres) wide.
Ms Prescott, a 25-year-old teaching assistant, ended up as one of around 80,000 homeless families in the UK after her relationship with her partner broke down and she was asked to leave her mother in law’s house, where they had all been living.
After several months sleeping on friends’ and relatives’ sofas, Newham council allocated her and the children a room in a house designated as bed and breakfast accommodation. They spent seven-and-a-half weeks there, exceeding the legal limit of six weeks for a woman who is pregnant or has young children.
She is not alone. Although the UK’s housing crisis has not been caused by council spending cuts, the big increase — revealed by Financial Times analysis — in the number of times councils have breached this law points to a system struggling to keep up with demand.
Until 2010, the cost of temporary accommodation for homeless families was met through a subsidy paid to councils by the Department for Work and Pensions. But since 2011, the value of that subsidy has been frozen at 90 per cent of local housing benefit levels — in effect pricing councils out of the market for more appropriate, self-contained family accommodation.
Recalling her time in the shared house, Ms Prescott said: “Each room was assigned to a family and it was one bathroom shared between five families. . . The kitchen was infested with cockroaches and mice.”
Three weeks before she gave birth to her third child, the council moved her, after the housing charity Shelter intervened. However, this flat, too, is mouse-infested and cramped and she has now taken her case to the local government ombudsman.
The government’s rhetoric was “all about lifting people, especially young mothers, young families. But I feel like I’m on a sieve that’s got giant holes and I’m falling through it with nothing to cling on to,” said Ms Prescott.
Newham council said it was looking for a property for Ms Prescott in the private rented sector, “and also carrying out a review of the temporary accommodation she is currently living in”.
It blamed central London boroughs such as Westminster which, it said, had placed hundreds of their own homeless families in temporary accommodation in Newham, “reducing the number of suitable properties available to us”.
“This means we are forced to accommodate a small number of our homeless cases in bed-and-breakfast for longer than six weeks. We are doing all we can to prevent this from happening,” it said.
Fairer government funding was needed “to ensure outer London boroughs like Newham are not left to deal with this pressure”, the council added.
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