This Christmas there will be 2,588 homeless children in Wandsworth, an increase of almost 400 on last Christmas, according to figures released by Wandsworth Council.
As well as homelessness, foodbank use in the borough is also increasing. Wandsworth Foodbank described it as “sad beyond words” that on December 15 more households visited their Battersea St Mark’s foodbank than on any other day since it opened in 2013. In one day emergency food and support was provided for 26 households in crisis; a total of 70 local people including 37 children. The Furzedown foodbank has reported that it has started to provide basic hygiene items such as sanitary products for women.
The issue of deep poverty is becoming so acute in Wandsworth – one of London’s richest boroughs – that the MP for Tooting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, raised it today at PMQs only for the Prime Minister to quibble over the definition of homeless, prompting one national paper to liken her to Scrooge.
So for the avoidance of any doubt about the reality of living in temporary accommodation, I wanted to share the housing problems faced by one Wandsworth residents that I helped resolve this time last year.
Gadail Lucas was a single mum to an autistic son and 10-month-old baby who found herself homeless after fleeing domestic violence. She was moved by Wandsworth Council 5 times in 15 months, including into a B and B and properties with rat infestations.
During this time, she gave birth to her daughter and suffered from a post-partum hernia which meant she wasn’t able to use stairs. Travel, carrying a baby and a buggy, became extremely difficult and painful. Some of the temporary accommodation she was given was out of borough or several floors up with no working lift.
Here are some of the things Gadail said about her 15 month wait for a home and how she managed 5 moves with two small children during that time.
“I cannot fund removals due to spending money on taxis as my son’s breathing has been so bad.
“Due to the impact of the living conditions his breathing problems have gotten severe.”
“I am very distressed as I am surviving on take away and using cabs to get to and from school.
“I am drained as I’m breast feeding and missed my doctor appointment last night as I was just too drained to go even to discuss my ongoing belly runs which have been ongoing since drinking the water in the flat with rats.
“I have spoken to two neighbours who have also confirmed they have rats in their walls and have complained for five years with no help from the council.”
One of the rats trapped by Gadail Lucas in her baby daughter’s bedroom
“I have just seen 2 rats in the front room as I fed my daughter run past us. I have caught one on a trap that was running in my son’s wardrobe last night beside his mattress which explains why his Ezema has flaired up and I have caught another on the trap under the cooker which was left unsealed for the first week I was here”
“It is so obvious the council and landlord have been aware this property is infested with rats. These conditions are uninhabitable for me and my children. Clothes and mattresses and food had to be thrown away as a result of this”.
“I need to settle my son in permanent accommodation as he is getting depressed by all these living conditions and now living in a flat with rat infestation. My son doesn’t want to eat in the house is scared to go in the fridge and to sleep in his room”.
When Mrs May tries to diminish the reality of children having nowhere they can call home at Christmas, she is failing entirely to understand what homelessness means.
Families can be moved several times before a home is found for them, which of course impacts their mental health, their ability to work and their children’s ability to attend school. It’s hard at the best of times but heart-breaking at Christmas.
Earlier this month universal credit was rolled out in some areas of Wandsworth.
According to a recent report by New Policy Institute, changes to the benefits system, including the introduction of universal credit: “certainly partly explain why deep poverty has risen and unless the role out of Universal Credit is stopped or changes are made, the proportion of people in deep poverty in London will continue to rise”.
Some housing stats
- In 2010 there were 400 homeless families in Wandsworth. In November 2017, this had risen to 1,735
- Wandsworth Tories sold off 14,791 council homes in the past 25 years. Only 5,170 affordable homes (only 1,000 social homes built in last 16 years) were built to replace them.
- 80% of housing built in Wandsworth is only affordable to 8% of local people.
- People in poverty in London increasingly live in the private rented sector (PRS)– 43% currently live in the PRS, compared with 31.5% six years ago. In the last decade there has been a corresponding increase in the number of children in poverty living in the private rented sector, with this number roughly tripling.
- The New Policy Institute’s report on Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion is available here: http://www.npi.org.uk/publications/income-and-poverty/monitoring-poverty-and-social-exclusion-mpse-2016/