The plight of a mother and daughter forced to live in a hotel room 127 miles from their former home in the capital

When Aisha was evicted from her flat in East Ham, east London, on 15 April, she packed her belongings in a suitcase and went with her six-year-old daughter to the council’s housing office in Stratford, hoping for help to find somewhere else to stay in the area.

Instead she was given a train ticket to Birmingham, and details of how to take the bus from the station to the Bailey hotel in Edgbaston, a hotel providing emergency accommodation 127 miles away.

For the past month, she has been sharing a double bed with her daughter in a room scarcely bigger than the bed, living out of the suitcase, and surviving mainly on cold snack food from the corner shop because it is hard to get access to the hotel’s kitchen, which has just one stove – four hotplates – shared between residents of the hotel’s 25 rooms.

The Bailey hotel is currently home to six families from Newham, moved out of London by a council that is in the grip of a severe housing crisis.

Some of them have been moved pre-emptively in advance of the forthcoming benefit cap, which will limit total welfare payments to £500 a week for families, and will be implemented this summer. Others have been moved out of London because Newham has run out of cheap accommodation within the borough. Over the past year, central London councils, themselves struggling to find affordable places to house their tenants, have been moving them to cheaper areas such as Newham, reducing the available affordable stock in that borough, so that Newham has had to start moving people farther out.

Newham council is currently housing 29 families outside the borough: 10 in Birmingham and others in locations such as Leicester, Southend and Northampton. It expects that number to grow. In a statement, the council said it was “experiencing housing pressure”. Other London councils are making similar arrangements to provide homes for people outside the capital, and Aisha’s situation is likely to become increasingly common over the next year.

The hotel is only an emergency, temporary stopgap, but one Newham family – a father with five children aged between 18 and six – have been living there since January, six people sharing two rooms. Jalo (who, like Aisha, requested that his real name should not be published to avoid any risk of complicating their housing situation) was evicted late last year for £200 rent arrears.

“They send us here like animals,” he said. “No one has called me or told me how long I should be here.” In the capital, he worked in security for London Underground, and later did warehouse work, but he is unable to look for work in Birmingham because of the uncertainty of his position.

Earlier this month, Aisha, 43, was told that the council had found her a permanent place in Hastings, East Sussex. She packed her suitcase and made the 193-mile journey to the south coast with her daughter, to look at the flat. She was told she had no choice about whether to accept the property, but she also found out that it was not yet ready to move into, so she returned by train to Birmingham. She is now unclear when, or if, she will be moved there.

Because she has no idea how long she will be in Birmingham, her daughter is not in school. The six-year-old is very bored and is missing the friends she made at her primary school in East Ham. The hotel, a very basic bed and breakfast establishment, has no facilities for children, and a sign on the door to the only communal space announces: “Due to recent events the dining room has been banned from children for play.”

So Aisha and her daughter spend a lot of the time sitting on the bed, watching television.

She understands that there is an intense housing shortage in London, and is resigned to moving from the city where she has put down roots over the past 10 years, since she moved to the UK from the Gambia. But she finds the uncertainty of living in a hotel very difficult.

“If they want to house me in Birmingham – that’s OK. But why put me in a hotel? Why don’t they find me somewhere to live here? Why do they bring me here and then to Hastings?” she asked. She wonders how much Newham is saving by moving her here, given the high cost of hotel accommodation.

Aisha was unclear about the room rate, but another former Newham resident, who is living at the hotel with her two-month-old baby, said her room was costing the state £196 a week.

For a while, the interconnecting door from Aisha’s room to the neighbouring one could not be fastened, and new arrivals would peer around the door at her. Even now that it is secured, there are constant noises through the thin walls. “It is not a good hotel. You can see the situation – it is a small room for me and my daughter,” Aisha said.

She is unable to look for work because she has no permanent address. She has worked previously as a radio presenter, but now is anxious to get any job.

“I’d do any work – cleaning, kitchen work. I want to be working and paying tax,” she said.

A member of hotel staff, who asked not to be named, said he understood that arrangements were being made to accommodate increasing numbers of London families.

Currently most families were there for between a month and two months, he said, admitting that it was a challenging place to spend time with small children.

“We try to only have families, so that it is a good, homely atmosphere. Obviously, no one would like to spend a long period of time here – hotels are for holidays.

“We try to make people as comfortable as possible while they are here, but there is only so much you can do. You can’t keep kids inside all the time,” he said.

Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, said he expected to see many more of his constituents moved out of London because of the benefit cap.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We have argued consistently that it makes no sense to have the benefit cap at the same level in London as in the rest of the country, when London rents are so much higher.

“The government admits that over 7,000 London households will lose over £100 when the benefit cap hits and many will be forced out of London.”

In a statement, Newham council said the area had high poverty levels “resulting in high demand for the cheapest properties”.

“We have a shortage of good-quality housing, with approximately 24,000 people waiting for a council house … Government changes to the benefits policy have put Newham’s private rented sector under increased pressure and restricted the number of properties available for us to house homeless families,” it said.

“Unfortunately there is not enough housing of sufficient quality in the borough to meet the high level of local need and we have been forced to consider other options.

“In addition to this, changes to the benefit system will mean some properties available now would become unaffordable in the future, to the detriment of both residents seeking help with housing and the council.”

Source:The Guardian


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