Exclusive: 55 homeless children have died in Temporary Accommodation since 2019

55 Children

Homelessness and temporary accommodation have contributed to the deaths of at least 55 children in England since 2019, according to new research shared exclusively with ITV News.

The data, compiled by the National Child Mortality Database, shows the majority of those who died were babies under the age of one.

A spokesperson for the government called the findings “completely shocking”.

Dr Laura Neilson, chief executive of Shared Health who helped uncover the data, told ITV News the deaths were “incomprehensible and preventable”, adding that “clinicians, politicians, and local government must act now to prevent any more of these tragedies”.

“We do know [unexpected deaths in temporary accommodation are] associated with being out of routine, staying in different places, no room for sterilisation – you can’t regulate the temperature very well,” Dr Neilson said.

“Babies might be sleeping in mum’s bed or sofas, it might be damp and there [are] often other people living in that community, that house, so it’s quite chaotic.

“But we know that all of this means that it is more likely for small children and very small babies to die”.

When a child dies in England, a Child Death Overview Panel (CDOP), made up of healthcare professionals, police and children’s social care, review the circumstances of that child’s death to determine how they died, what contributed to their death and whether it was preventable.

The National Child Mortality Database, an NHS-funded programme, then gathers data from those official reviews.

It analysed the deaths of 10,256 children between 1st April 2019 and March 31st 2023 and found temporary accommodation was deemed to be contributing factor in the deaths of 55 children.

Of those 55 children, 42 were less than a year old.

A record 142,490 children in England are currently living in temporary accommodation.

While they are not sleeping rough, they are legally defined as homeless, and can be placed by their local council in bed and breakfasts, shared hostels, hotels or private accommodation rented by the council.

According to the data given to ITV News, eight of the homeless children who died were living in a B&B, hotel or hostel; 17 were staying in temporary housing; 11 were staying with a friend or family member’s accommodation and in 15 cases, it was not clear where they were living.

The latest findings are an increase on the number published last year by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Households in Temporary Accommodation, which found at least 34 children died in temporary accommodation, with homelessness listed as a possible contributing factor.

These deaths have all been received by a Child Death Overview Panel (CDOP).

“The loss of 55 lives, equivalent to two classrooms of children, serves as a stark indictment of our housing crisis,” said Simon Gale, CEO of Justlife Foundation.

“Despite the gravity of the situation, we have yet to treat it as the emergency it is. This should serve as a wake-up call and we are urging the government to establish a task force to comprehensively address this systemic failure.”

ITV News has been investigating the rise in homelessness and the increasing use of temporary accommodation, which is often unsuitable and at times unsafe.

In Oldham in Greater Manchester, Emily Price and her son Lorenzi have been homeless since June last year.

They currently live in a temporary flat on the top floor of a building without a lift.

While the flat is unsuitable, their last place was unsafe.

The family was placed in a room in a budget hotel, where they were unable to control the heating – one-year-old Lorenzi then suffered significant burns after grabbing a radiator his mum didn’t know was on.

“He has never screamed like that,” Emily said. “He has never actually hurt himself to the point where he was rolling around the floor screaming. I think that is probably the worst feeling I have ever had in my life.

“I was running his hand under cold water and I was on the phone to the ambulance. They said if you can bring him in faster, bring him.

“So we stayed there overnight, they gave him morphine and they had to burst the blister on his hand and dress it. It obviously opens up other complications – if he didn’t protect it or keep it clean it is more sensitive to the sun and skin cancer, things like that.” Emily believes this happened to her son due to the unsuitable nature of temporary accommodation for children.

“When I went to A&E there were two other children there with burns that were living in temporary accommodation in the same unit that were a similar age.”

Oldham councillor Elaine Taylor, cabinet member for housing and licensing, said what happened to Lorenzi is “entirely unacceptable”.

“The safety of our residents in temporary accommodation is an absolute priority, and as far as I am concerned, there are no excuses for any failure that leads to this type of accident or injury.”

She said that regular checks are carried out by the council, but that accommodation providers also need to share that responsibility.

“On this occasion, we carried out a full inspection of the hotel, and agreed an improvement plan with hotel management. We will not be complacent when it comes to the safety of our residents. We continue to work with temporary accommodation providers to make sure that they are fit, safe and comfortable for our residents.”

In West London families have been housed in shipping containers converted into temporary accommodation by Ealing Council.

ITV News visited the containers and spoke to many families who had the same complaints of damp, leaks, overcrowding and infestations.

We visited one container where a single mum and her three children were without hot water.

All the families we spoke to told us they felt their homes were unsafe and had made their children sick.

Nathalie Bangama told ITV News that living inside a container had been a “nightmare”.

Anayah, Nathalie’s 14-month-old daughter, has developed breathing difficulties as a result of living there and her two older sons suffer from asthma due to the conditions.

Nathalie also told ITV News how they struggle with extreme temperatures.

“Honestly it’s just been a nightmare. A nightmare. When it is cold, it’s cold. It is [made of] metal,” Nathalie told us.

“In winter it is very cold. In summer time you cannot sit [inside] for five minutes.

“It is so hot it is unbelievable. I have to cook outside in summertime. We stay outside, I take [the children] out for walks to the park.”

This estate isn’t a one-off – 15 minutes away we find another estate made up of shipping containers being used as temporary accommodation. We met Paula and her two children who have lived inside a container for two years.

The children told ITV News that they couldn’t believe they would be staying in a shipping container when they first saw it, and said it was “ridiculous”.

“Sometimes when it rains very hard, the rain falls down on my bed,” one child said.

“Last night (the rain) leaked onto my bed. I couldn’t sleep because my feet were wet from the rain. I woke up and all I see is water coming through the ceiling. Literally it is not nice.” An Ealing Council spokesperson said there has long been a “chronic shortage” of affordable housing in Ealing, and that has only been made worse by the cost-of-living crisis.

“The modular homes at Meath and Marston Courts were an attempt by the council to seek innovative solutions to the affordable housing crisis. We are now decommissioning both sites as a direct result of concerns raised about the quality of the accommodation, and we are working to rehouse residents as quickly as possible.”

And steps are being taken at a governmental level, too.

The cross-party government group on households in temporary accommodation has been campaigning for cots to be provided in temporary accommodation to encourage safe sleeping.

Last week the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) changed the Homelessness Code of Guidance for councils to encourage the provision of cots.

The DLUHC has written to all local councils saying they need to “make it explicit that temporary accommodation should not be considered suitable for a family with children under two if there is not enough space for a cot and that housing authorities should support families to secure a cot where needed.”

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh welcomed the change but said “it will only save lives if it is actually implemented.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said the findings were “completely shocking”.

“Our guidance to councils is clear that all temporary accommodation must be safe and suitable for families with babies and have enough space for a cot.

“We will continue to work with the [All-Party Parliamentary Group] and councils on this important issue.”

Dan Hewitt, Investigations Editor
Mariah Cooper, Investigations Producer
ITV News

Recent Posts

Doctors in Deprivation Training Day: Thursday 27th June 2024. Find Your Tribe.

Shared Health Foundation invites any GP or clinical lead who is working in the Deep

Read more ⇨

Homeless Families Conference: Wednesday 26th June 2024. Dare to Hope.

Come all who work with, or who are interested in homeless families in any capacity.

Read more ⇨