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Stories behind the data - temporary accommodation in Westminster


Westminster is a borough which, to many, is “only home to London’s wealthiest” (Marc Francis, Z2K). But, like many of London’s most affluent districts, it is also home to pockets of deep poverty – such as around Queen’s Park which, according to Z2K, has among the highest rates of child poverty in England.

In this article we use our data from London’s Poverty Profile to explore the crisis of rough sleeping and temporary accommodation in the borough, and hear reflections from two organisations working on the ground – Z2K and the Cardinal Hume Centre.

Westminster has the highest number of rough sleepers in London. In 2021-22, 1,698 people were seen sleeping rough in the borough. This is more than twice as high as in Camden, the borough with the second highest number of rough sleepers - and almost eight times higher than the London average of 214.

Alongside this, large numbers of people in Westminster are put into temporary accommodation. Our data shows that for every thousand households in Westminster, 19.8 of them are in temporary accommodation.

But this only tells half the story.

People seen sleeping rough by outreach workers by borough (2021/22)

Many households are put into temporary accommodation outside of the borough, severing connections with family, friends and schools. Research by Cardinal Hume showed that at any one time, there are at least 3,500 children living in temporary accommodation provided by Westminster Council.

Although temporary accommodation is meant to be – as it says on the tin - ‘temporary’, a lack of affordable housing means that households can sometimes be stuck in poor quality conditions for years. The below quotes are from Westminster residents in temporary accommodation, provided to us by the Cardinal Hume Centre.

We are living a very unsettled life… It’s disorganising mentally and emotionally in every way. I hope to get out [of temporary accommodation] as soon as possible.

Anonymous, Service user, Cardinal Hume Centre

I don’t know how I will get out of temporary accommodation. They have said nothing; they don’t even provide any info – you just wait.

Anonymous, Service user, Cardinal Hume Centre

It’s not enough for five families. It’s… very depressing... they treat us like children. Constantly behind you with you room checks - you are living on someone else’s terms.

Anonymous, Service user, Cardinal Hume Centre

Rent for a one bedroom dwelling as a percentage of gross pay by London borough (April 2021 - March 2022)

Westminster is one of the least affordable boroughs to live in. On average, rent for a one-bedroom flat costs 69.6% of the media wage in London – far higher than the London average.

Alongside this, the borough has a lot of second homes, often owned by overseas companies. New research funded by Trust for London revealed that there are 44,000 more homes owned by offshore companies in England and Wales than previously thought – with Westminster being one desirable area for investment.

Marc Francis, from Z2K, says that developing homes that local people can’t afford is causing households to be stuck in temporary accommodation.

He said: "The political choices made almost since the Borough’s creation mean that, while many large homes remain empty for much of the year, little new genuinely affordable social housing has been built for decades. As a result, over 2,500 homeless households are trapped for years in temporary accommodation, over half of whom are outside of Westminster’s borders, breaking the connection with schools and family support networks."

With more than 60,000 Londoners in temporary accommodation, London is the epicentre of the country’s temporary accommodation crisis – and Westminster is at the heart of this.

Take a look at the work we are funding to improve conditions for people in temporary accommodation under our new Better Temporary Accommodation for Londoners fund.

Explore London’s Poverty Profile for insights into poverty and inequality across the capital