RCM: “We have to do all we can to tackle the scourge homelessness”

© Born Homeless. Channel 4 Dispatches

The RCM has called for an end to the “scourge” of homelessness after a survey found midwives were dealing with more pregnant women facing homelessness than ever before.

The union joined forces with Channel 4’s Dispatches to survey midwives from across the UK, who collectively care for over 15,000 women per month. The ground-breaking survey, which aired last night, found two thirds of those asked say that more pregnant women are facing homelessness than ever before.

Reports from frontline maternity staff suggest that cuts to benefits, changes in the welfare system, and widespread issues with suitable housing in many areas of the UK are disproportionately affecting pregnant women.

Types of homelessness and numbers seen by midwives

  • 99.7% of the midwives who responded to the survey reported that they had seen a pregnant woman who was homeless in the past 6 months
  • 96.7% reported that they had seen a pregnant woman whom they believed to be at risk of homelessness in the past six months
  • 97% had seen at least one pregnant woman sharing over-crowded or otherwise unsuitable accommodation
  • 99% had seen at least one pregnant woman living in hostels, shelters or temporary accommodation
  • 97% had seen at least one pregnant woman sofa-surfing
  • 81% had seen at least one pregnant woman who was street homeless.

Born Homeless brought to light the story of three mums, fighting to keep their families safe and off the street. Sam is pregnant with her first child; her dream is to be a social worker. Sam and her husband were told they would have to leave their rented shared accommodation as it is not suitable for a baby. The eviction date is just days before Sam is due to give birth. They are placed by Lambeth Council in a temporary shared hostel.

On moving day, Sam said: “What makes me emotional with it all is…if it’s gonna affect the baby. That’s what makes me emotional. You just don’t want anything to interfere with the development… I do not want to put the baby in there, I myself don’t even wanna go in there.”

Temi moved to London from Ireland to be closer to her family, and she is expecting a baby in days. She is facing the prospect of bringing her baby home to severely overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

Temi said: “To be honest I haven’t really felt the full joy that I’m actually gonna be a mum again you know – I’m excited and all that but I’m just worried with the space… I’m supposed to be resting and it’s just all I can think about is the housing accommodation”. Temi and her children have been living in a single room in a hostel with other homeless mums for more than a year.”

95% of the midwives Dispatches surveyed said they believe that homelessness puts the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn babies at risk. And the research supports this, some studies* suggest that stress in pregnancy can adversely affect both the baby’s growth and future development.

RCM professional policy advisor Clare Livingstone said “Everyday midwives and other health professionals working in our NHS are caring for people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. They are among the most vulnerable in our society and midwives have a unique insight into the problem, visiting all women and babies where they live.

“The RCM’s recent guidance for midwives on the duty to refer pregnant women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless needs the backing of NHS employers, in enabling staff to undertake training and providing the time for them to appropriately care for women in these circumstances.

“We have all got to do everything we can to tackle the scourge of homelessness. We know that homelessness leads to stress and ill health in pregnancy and that there are potentially adverse effects for the babies of these vulnerable mothers.”

  • Read RCM’s ‘Duty to Refer – Guidance for Midwives on the Homelessness Reduction Act here.
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