Britain’s Evicted Kids follows seven-year-old Bella and her family after they are evicted from their Birmingham home. Image: Channel 4
A heartbreaking documentary telling the story of a seven-year-old girl’s journey through eviction, homelessness and temporary accommodation is highlighting the toll Britain’s housing crisis is taking on families.
Channel 4’s Britain’s Evicted Kids: Dispatches programme followed Bella and her family for months after they were evicted from their flat in Birmingham in March because their landlord was looking to sell the property.
The documentary, which airs on Friday, shows the family’s post-eviction journey as Bella and her younger sisters Nylah and Macie join 120,000 children living in temporary accommodation across the country.
Once evicted, low-income families have little choice to find a new home. With record rent costs across the country, just one in 50 rental properties are affordable for families who receive housing benefit, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Where Bella’s family lived in Birmingham just one in 100 homes were available in a suitable price range. In 19 areas across Britain there were no affordable properties.
“Even before the cost of living crisis, tenants were spending huge amounts of their income on rent, but now private rents are soaring along with every other bill, struggling renters are fast running out of rope,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of housing charity Shelter.
“Housing affordability remains a major blind spot. It’s when people can’t afford to live anywhere that they end up homeless. The government has to unfreeze housing benefit immediately so people can pay their rent this winter, or face an onslaught of evictions and surging homelessness.
“For those already experiencing the trauma of homelessness, the cost-of-living crisis is making life unbearable. Homeless families trapped in temporary accommodation are switching off the lights and skipping meals to keep paying the rent on grim hostel rooms that no-one could ever mistake for a “home”. Most people don’t realise homeless families have to pay rent, but they do, and it’s going to be an impossibly hard winter for thousands.”
Even before the cost of living crisis started to bite homelessness was a harsh reality for Bella, her sisters and her parents Theo and Clarissa.
After being evicted, the family of five were given no option but to move into a hotel room in Walsall as they could not find a home they could afford. The move was 17 miles and a 90 minute bus ride from Bella’s school, forcing the family to temporarily split as Bella moved in with her grandmother to attend classes.
Local authorities are required to find families a home inside the borough where they live wherever possible but housing shortages meant 26,000 households were moved to another area in the first three months of 2022, Dispatches found. That’s three times the number a decade ago.
The move has a detrimental impact on Bella’s school work. “I’m finding school difficult,” said Bella. “I just think about mummy at the hotel and stuff like that because I think that it’s hard for her being a mum.”
The family were eventually able to move back into a Birmingham hotel but faced disruption as they were forced to move rooms every four weeks and live without space or facilities to cook food.
In the documentary, Bella recalls how the family were forced to have sandwiches or toast for dinner.
It has had a big impact on Bella. She said: “I don’t want to be a mum. I don’t want to have babies. Do you know why? Because it’s going to be hard, and I don’t want it to be hard. I’m going to buy a house instead.”
The family eventually moved to a flat in Birmingham but it is still temporary accommodation and like an increasing number of other families across the country, they are still battling for a roof over their heads.
The number of households with children who were homeless or at risk of imminent homelessness increased by more than 23 per cent in England across a 12-month period between 2021 and 2022, Dispatches revealed.
Part of the problem is that local housing allowance is not increasing alongside record rent rises and the wider cost of living. The benefit has been frozen since it was raised to cover the bottom 30 percentile of the market in April 2020.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism calculated that in England, the average increase in Local Housing Allowance needed to make 30 per cent of the properties advertised affordable was £206. But in Central London it was as much as £1,444.
A government spokesperson said: “During the pandemic we increased the local housing allowance for housing benefits, with 1.5 million households receiving on average an additional £600 a year. We are maintaining this boost, ensuring those who benefitted will continue to do so, whilst also investing £11.5 billion in our Affordable Homes Programme.”
Survey data from Shelter found two-thirds of private renters are worried about how they will pay their rent and a quarter have cut back on food or skipped meals to cover their housing costs.
Meanwhile a separate survey of 1,000 homeless households from Shelter found a quarter were falling behind on temporary accommodation payments, including rent, bills and service charges, amid the cost-of-living crisis.
“The cost of living crisis is worsening every day, and the government is catastrophically failing to do anything that will help families keep a roof over their heads,” said Neate.
“Despite countless promises, the government has yet to ban no-fault evictions, which leave people in constant fear of losing their home. And it’s done nothing to help people cope with rapidly rising rents, with housing benefit still frozen at 2020 levels.
“Ultimately something radical needs to be done to fix our broken housing system. At the heart of this housing emergency is a lack of truly affordable homes. If we are going to stop lurching from crisis to crisis, we need to build something better. We need a new generation of decent, secure social homes with fair rents that are pegged to local incomes.”
Britain’s Evicted Kids: Dispatches will air on Channel 4 on Friday October 6 at 7:30pm