The ongoing housing crisis, and rising levels of homelessness, is an important issue to readers of regional news sites across the Reach network. Given this it is important to be able to use statistics, both published and unpublished to give a greater insight into the scale of these problems.
The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information requests to all councils across Britain, build on publically available statistics on homelessness and temporary accommodation. It gives readers a greater insight into the reality of families spending more than six weeks in B&Bs, showing that for many more than six weeks means months.
The statistics obtained through FOI came at a time when they could be used to build on research by Children’s Commissioner for England on the use of B&B and other temporary accommodation for homeless children and families, showing many were spending time living in hugely unsuitable housing. The figures give both a local and in-depth perspective on the implications of that report, and is a story can only be revealed through the collection and analysis of this data.
The reaction of the public bodies to the publication of these figures shows the stark reality of the policy choices under pressure councils are being forced to make – with Wrexham council admitting that high demand for services has led to such long stays – suggesting that these stories, and the concerns of the Children’s Commissioner, may be difficult to address without much wider societal change.
The data for the story was uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act and required the painstaking collection of information from nearly 400 councils across Britain. This infromation needed to be collected into a single spreadsheet, organised and analysed to discover the stories within the data.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The challenge of sending FOI requests is dealing with public bodies’ failure to provide the requested information. This meant the need to be organised with complaints and internal reviews. Being able to build on previous successful challenges to the use of exemptions made it easier to get the data (as well as strengthening the case for other journalists to be able to access similar data).
What can others learn from this project?
The importance of looking deeper than the published official data.Government statistics can be a jumping off point for investigations as they rovide some but not all of the story. FOI is an excellent tool for doing this, allowing journalists to build their own national datasets that tell the stories in more depth.