One of the unrecognised – and often unseen – consequences of the
boom in house prices is the one million children forced to live in
Shelter has just launched a report to coincide with the biggest
campaign in its history: to bring about an end to poor housing for
the next generation of children. Toying with their Future
reveals that more than a million children growing up in
overcrowded, unfit or emergency housing suffer health problems, are
less likely to succeed educationally and have their “futures
Adam Sampson, Shelter’s director, is angered by poor housing’s low
priority. Speaking at the report’s launch, he said: “It has slipped
down the agenda of successive governments. We used to make a
connection between bad housing and poor health and
The report reveals that more than a million houses in the UK are
unfit to live in and more than half a million families live in
housing that is officially overcrowded. One in 12 children in the
UK are more likely to develop diseases such as bronchitis,
tuberculosis or asthma because of bad housing and homeless children
living in bed and breakfast hotels are twice as likely to be
admitted to accident and emergency with burns and scalding.
The psychological damage this can do is severe. Shelter says it
works with many children with behavioural problems such as mood
swings, hyperactivity, depression, reluctance to eat, disturbed
sleep and bed wetting.
Jane Cook, an outer London health visitor with almost 20 years’
experience working with homeless people, told the launch that
children who are living in unsuitable accommodation suffering from
depression and developmental problems.
She says: “Housing can affect children’s physical, behavioural and
speech development. If there isn’t enough room in the house
children aren’t free to explore. The same thing happens if the
carpets are filthy and parents are worried about letting their
Cook says part of the solution to the housing crisis lies in
partnership working between health, housing and social services.
“Housing needs to be on everybody’s agenda,” she adds.
Sampson believes that the impact inappropriate housing can have on
a child, especially those with behavioural problems, is often
overlooked. He says: “Social services are engaging with families
where children are exhibiting behavioural problems and they need to
consider housing as a possible driver for some of what’s happening.
If a child is truanting or getting into trouble it could be because
that child is living in over-crowded conditions with nowhere to
play or let off steam.”
The Shelter report paints a bleak picture of a system that has
broken down and where families can end up “passed from pillar to
post and excluded from their home and community” because not enough
support is available.
The recruitment and retention of social workers is highlighted as a
reason for services to families reaching “crisis point”. Services
that prevent people becoming homeless in the first place need to be
made more widely available and better targeted, the report
Sampson says social services could take the lead role on
joint-working and co-ordinating the approach to homeless families.
“What concerns us is the number of professionals dealing with
families and children,” he says. “There needs to be one person who
takes primary responsibility and can act as a co-ordinator and
primary point of contact and advice. Social services are ideally
placed for that but they need to have the time and
– Toying with their Future: The Hidden Cost of the Housing
Crisis, from www.shelter.org.uk