“Severe shortage” of social housing traps 600,000 families in overcrowded homes, says NHF

ENGLAND is in danger of becoming little more than a squalid slum for many thousands of families caught between homelessness and overcrowding; all because of a national failure to deliver the homes people can genuinely afford.

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s report from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Bleak Houses, detailing the “scandal” of homeless children and their families housed in shipping containers and converted office blocks, the National Housing Federation (NHF) has today released research into overcrowding among those with a home.

The report highlights how a “severe shortage” of suitable, affordable housing is forcing 130,000 families in England to squeeze into one-bedroom flats. All told, around 1.3 million children from more than 600,000 families are stuck in overcrowded homes because there is nowhere else for them to live.

Homes are said to be ‘overcrowded’ if a child has to share their bedroom with two or more other children, sleep in the same room as their parents, or share with a teenager of the opposite sex. The NHF says overcrowding has now reached record levels, with around 96,000 more children living in overcrowded homes compared to a decade ago.

The new report on the “shocking” state of overcrowding also includes a poll, carried out by ComRes for the NHF, that aims to show the grim living conditions overcrowded families often experience. These include:

  • Just under half of children in overcrowded homes are forced to share a bedroom with their parents – this could affect as many as 627,000 children
  • In more than a quarter of overcrowded homes, children even must share a bed with a parent or sibling – this could affect as many as 368,000 children
  • More than a quarter of parents in overcrowded homes are often forced to sleep in kitchens, bathrooms or hallways because of the lack of space – this could affect as many as 380,000 people
  • More than half of parents in overcrowded homes worry that their children aren’t coming home because of how overcrowded it is – this could affect as many as 695,000 children
  • Around half of children in overcrowded homes struggle to do their homework because of the lack of space – this could affect as many as 750,000 children. This includes 14% (as many as 190,000 children) who find it totally impossible

The NHF says the main cause of overcrowding is the “stark” lack of housing in England, especially social housing, which means growing families have nowhere affordable to move to.

The country needs around 145,000 new affordable homes every year, the organisation argues, including 90,000 for social rent. Last year only 6,000 social-rented homes were built, as a result of sharp Government cuts to funding for new social housing in 2010.

Kate Henderson, NHF chief executive
Kate Henderson, NHF chief executive

“This research shows yet another devastating impact of the broken housing market,” said Kate Henderson, the NHF’s chief executive. “All across the country, whole families squeeze into one-bedroom flats, children sleep three to a bed, and parents are forced to spend their night in the kitchen or a hallway.

“This is having a huge impact on more than a million children, seriously affecting their start in life. For decades, successive governments have failed to invest in social housing, and families are paying the price.

“The only way to fix the problem is by building enough social housing, which requires a radical public spending programme – there is simply no other way. By investing £12.8 billion in affordable housing every year, the Government can finally put an end to the country’s housing problem.”

As well as overcrowding, the shortage of social housing is having a serious impact on millions of people’s lives in other ways.

Rough sleeping has increased by 165% since 2010, while the number of households in temporary accommodation is at a 10-year high. Meanwhile, more people are being pushed into expensive and insecure private renting, including 1.3 million children currently growing up in poverty in privately rented homes.

Many more people are stuck at home with their parents, unable to build independent lives and start families of their own.

On the back of this research, the NHF is calling on the Government to invest £12.8 billion every year for the next decade in building new social homes, bringing spending levels back to those last seen under Churchill’s government in the early 1950s. This would, it says, effectively end the housing crisis, kick starting a nationwide housebuilding boom of around 145,000 new social homes to rent and shared ownership properties to buy every year.

“These figures show the impact of Conservative ministers’ cuts to housing investment at a time when new social housing has never been needed more,” said Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey MP.

“The country is now building 30,000 fewer social rented homes each year than in 2010, while there are over a million households stuck on council waiting lists. Labour will build a million genuinely affordable homes, including the biggest council housing programme in a generation.”

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