Covid ‘could have severe impact for London children in temporary accommodation’, study finds

Children may have suffered lifelong consequences during the pandemic (File picture)  (PA Media)
Children may have suffered lifelong consequences during the pandemic (File picture) (PA Media)

Adverse effects caused by the Covid pandemic could have lasting implications for children living in temporary accommodation in London, according to a new study.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) examined the impact of not having a fixed address during the pandemic on the health outcomes of children under five living in the borough of Newham.

Living in temporary accommodation is a form of homelessness and, according to the Office of National Statistics, it “may be provided while an assessment decision is being made or while homeless households are waiting for longer-term accommodation”.

The number of families living in temporary accommodation significantly increased during the pandemic. Newham has also reported the highest rate of homelessness in the country with one in 11 children living in temporary accommodation in 2020 and 2021.

Researchers at UCL interviewed 16 professionals who work with under-fives and their families in the borough, including health visitors, health professionals, non-profit organisations, and the local authority.

They found that the pandemic had negatively impacted the health of under-fives, including a delay and regression in their developmental milestones and behaviours. This included toileting, feeding skills and social communication skills, the study said.

Lead author, PhD candidate and Early Career Researcher Diana Margot Rosenthal, of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, told the Standard: “The first five years of life is a critical development period.

“However, there is now a generation of under-fives in temporary accommodation who have experienced potentially severe effects on their health and development, which will likely have life-long consequences. These adversities could include detrimental effects on education, employment, and relationships.”

Professionals interviewed by the team said that those living in temporary accommodation had also reported barriers including poor mental health, unsuitable housing, no social support and mistrust of services. Families also cited issues with immigration administration and financial insecurity.

The study’s authors said these problems had been heightened by the reduction of in-person services during the pandemic, a limited access to internet and the struggle for some families to speak and write in English.

This meant that resolving issues relating to housing, benefits or health was more difficult.

Ms Rosenthal said: “Our findings indicate that Covid-19 greatly affected the lives of under-fives in temporary accommodation and further reduced the ability of professionals to deliver care to under-fives in temporary accommodation.

“In order to tackle this, we need integrated care systems, such as housing and health, and tailored cross-sector strategies that take into account both public health and policy and focus on early development, mental health support, employment training and opportunities for parents and carers.”

Ms Rosenthal added that the findings could also be relevant for other parts of the UK despite the study taking place in Newham.