Family of four crammed into a bedsit: The reality of Britain's housing crisis

The Garricks are waitin
The Garricks are at the sharp end of the housing crisis
Natalie Bloomer By

The room Elina Garrick sleeps in with her three children is the same one she cooks in, washes and dries their clothes in, and where she stores all their possessions.

The bedsit has been their home for the past eighteen months. When Garrick first found herself homeless, after the breakdown of a relationship, she turned to Newham council for help. Due to the massive shortage of housing in London, she was told they would be housed outside of the capital. Reluctant but desperate, Garrick accepted a room at Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City. She says she was told she would only be there a few weeks. Eighteen months later the family still haven't been moved.

"Every month they decide if our time here will be extended," Garrick says. "At the beginning, I would get my hopes up every time they reviewed it, thinking maybe this time they will rehouse us. I don't think like that anymore."

She worries about the impact the situation is having on her children. The older ones need space to do their homework, her youngest needs space to play. But those are luxuries this family doesn't have. At one end of the room there are two single beds and one set of bunk-beds, at the other there is a cooker, washing machine, and small dining table. Every corner is crammed with bags, toys and bedding. Wet clothes hang up to dry all around the room.

"My daughter is eight and she keeps telling me how much she wants her own bedroom," Garrick says. "My youngest child is forced to play next to a cooker. It's very dangerous."

The bedsits at Boundary House were clearly not designed to have so many people living in them. Garrick says there is a problem with damp and mould, and that the mattresses provided to them were old and badly stained. This post, by the blogger Kate Belgrave, shows the conditions residents have to live in. 

Garrick and her children's situation is shared by many others. In the run up to the last London mayoral election, Boris Johnson said he opposed the "Kosovo-style social cleansing" of the capital's poor. Yet an investigation by the Independent revealed that in the three years that followed more than 50,000 families were removed from the city. It was also reported last year that within just a a six month period, 49,536 London households were placed in temporary accommodation with 16,981 of those being housed outside of their boroughs. Many ended up in areas like Thurrock or Luton but some were moved as far away as Cornwall or Blackpool.

When the Garricks arrived in Welwyn Garden City, they didn't know a single person. Slowly they began to put down roots, the children are at school and Elina is doing some volunteering work. They've made friends and would be happy to be offered suitable permanent housing in the area. This is unlikely to happen.

They are now one of the last families from Newham remaining at Boundary House. After a series of complaints by residents, Newham council are now removing people from the bedsits and have stopped sending families there. Waltham Forest council and others continue to do so.

Elina has recently accepted a house in Basildon. Once again, she doesn't know anybody in the area and she is unsure about the move. She says she has spoken to the local schools and there are no spaces for her children, while the house is a long distance from public transport links. Regardless of all this, she had little choice but to take it. Housing charities advised her that if she turned it down there was a chance the council could discharge their duty of care towards her and she could end up on the streets.

A combination of soaring rents, cuts to benefits, and a shortage of social housing has created a crisis in affordable housing in the capital. A situation which has been made no better by cash-strapped councils resorting to selling off even more social housing stock. Over the last couple of years, communities right across the city have come together to fight for their right to stay in the areas they call home. One of the most high-profile campaigns was run by the Focus E15 mums who had their own battle with Newham council over its housing policy. The group have publicly supported Elina and have told that her treatment has been contemptible.

"Newham has a duty of care to this family and must stop shoving them from pillar to post," a spokesperson for the group says. "People need stable housing for their children."

The council says it stopped using Boundary House to temporarily house some of its homeless families due to the shortage of affordable move-on accommodation in that area, and points out that the government's welfare reforms have led to an increasing number of properties being unavailable to those on housing benefit.

“Accommodation is limited so we have to look at where properties are available," a spokesperson for Newham council says. "We have worked hard to create local options so that we can house as many people as possible in good quality, affordable accommodation.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure we have good quality, affordable housing in the borough which is fairly distributed but we have had to make some tough decisions as there is simply not enough housing of a decent standard to accommodate the high number of homeless families who approach us for help.”

Families like the Garricks are at the sharp end of the housing crisis. In search of a secure and permanent home, they are forced to abandon any hope of being part of a community. As soon as they settle in one place, they are moved on somewhere else. The candidates hoping to become the next mayor of London all promise to tackle the issue. Whether their plans are radical enough to put an end to this treatment of the capital's poorest people, remains to be seen.


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