The number of children in England living in overcrowded housing has breached the million barrier for the first time, housing charity Shelter has warned.
New research commissioned by the charity from the Survey of English Housing revealed that in 2007-8 around 1,009,000 children were living in overcrowded accommodation, a increase of nearly 100,000 since 2003. This means that around 10% of the children in England now live in overcrowded homes.
The rate for families renting social housing was discovered to be far worse at 22%, and London was the most affected region with an overall rate of 22%.
Shelter: Real figure likely to be much higher
But Shelter said that the real figures were likely to be far higher as the official definition of overcrowding does not include children under the age of one and considers kitchens or living rooms as suitable places to sleep.
Previous research has shown that children have to sleep in rooms other than bedrooms – such as lounges, dining rooms or kitchens – in over 25% of families living in overcrowded social rented housing.
The charity warned that overcrowding had a “devastating effect” on family life and that children in overcrowded homes were ten times more likely to contract meningitis.
Chief executive Sam Younger called on the government to build more affordable family-sized homes and to update its definition of overcrowding.
He said: “For too long the issue of children living in overcrowded housing has been a hidden problem.
‘Robbing children of an education’
“There is no doubt that overcrowding has a massive impact on children’s health, safety and future prospects and can cause depression for parents struggling to cope in cramped conditions. With many children unable to study due to a lack of space, the impact of overcrowding is robbing them of an education and a fair chance in life.”
The latest Survey of English Housing report published on 29 January this year, which covers data collected from 2007-8, found that overall 565,000 households in England were overcrowded – a rate of around 2.7%. London had the highest overall rate of overcrowding at 6.8%.