Government says ITV News report into child deaths in temporary accommodation is 'shocking'

ITV News' Investigations Correspondent Dan Hewitt explains the latest, shocking findings from an ongoing deep-dive into Britain's housing crisis

We have reported on my shocking and appalling findings during an ongoing investigation into Britain’s housing crisis - but the latest will stay with me for a long time.

That 55 children have died as a result of living in temporary accommodation is almost beyond comprehension. It is a statistic that stops you in your tracks.

Ever since I saw that number written down - collected by the National Child Mortality Database through painstaking analysis over more than 10,000 child deaths - I have barely thought of anything else.

They died in part because they were homeless. That was the assessment of healthcare professionals, police officers and social workers who sit on Child Death Overview Panels (CDOP) to determine what contributed to a child’s death.

It is all the more staggering because it is more than likely an underestimation.

CDOPs do not routinely ask about a child’s specific housing circumstances when assessing how they died. It is not a mandatory question.

ITV News Investigations Editor Dan Hewitt reports exclusively on the 55 homeless children who have died in temporary accommodation since 2019

It means in the 55 cases we know about, the panel has gone out of their way to note in their written report that the child was living in temporary housing and that it was a factor in their death.

How many other children have died in similar circumstances, but not been recorded in the same way?

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Temporary Accommodation have now successfully campaigned for that to change.

From here on in, CDOPs will roundly ask what’s a child housing situation was at the time of their death and whether it may have been a factor.

Depressingly, it means the APPG predicts that the 55 cases will rise. Even without that change in approach by experts, the number has gone up.

In January last year, the number of children who died as a result of being homeless was 34.

It has now increased by 21 after thousands more cases were reviewed by the National Child Mortality Database who analyses the reports of CODPs.

42 of the 55 were babies who had not yet reached their first birthday. No words can convey the heartbreak of those families. Each is a personal tragedy, and surely a preventable one?

What is being done about this?

A government spokesperson responded to our report to say 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,” they added.

That 42 babies who have died points to a serious issue with safe sleeping in temporary accommodation (TA), say MPs and campaigners.

When children are moved into TA - a hostel, a bedsit, a private flat - it is usually a last minute move and they are given no choice but to accept by their local council. There is no guarantee the place they are sent to has a cot or suitable bed for their baby.

If a baby or infant sleeps in a cot or moses basket, they are significantly less likely to die than if they slept in their parents’ bed, in their parents’ arms, or on a sofa, which is shown to increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS.

Last week, the government wrote to local authorities changing the guidance to encourage them to only place babies in accommodation with space for a cot.

The APPG on Temporary Housing has welcomed this change, but say the big issue is lack of enforcement. There is no regulator or organisation checking whether cots are being made available to families.

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Chair of the APPG and Labour MP Siobhan McDonaugh said: “This intervention will only save lives if it is actually implemented. That is what we need to see now across local authorities in England".

The much wider issue here is a chronic shortage of affordable homes. There are more than 1 million households on the waiting list for social homes.

The number of children living in temporary accommodation is at a record 142,000. Almost 20,000 of those are babies under the age of one.

Cash-strapped councils do not have enough housing for the number of people coming to them for help. They are having to fund places in TA out of ever-dwindling budgets and it is leading to families being placed in ever more unsuitable accommodation.

It explains why we found homeless children living in converted shipping containers in Ealing. The council says it was an innovative attempt at a solution to the housing shortage.

It is essentially a failed experiment - the “modular homes” are now being decommissioned as a direct result of families rising concerns about the conditions.

Britain needs more affordable housing. Everyone agrees on that.

It is simply not being built, and until that happens, homelessness will continue to rise, and the consequences of that are all too clear.

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