NEW RESEARCH FROM SHELTER reveals the shocking scale of overcrowding in England, with over 1.5 million people forced to live in overcrowded social homes.
This has increased by 44 per cent in the last five years (representing an extra 467,000 people). One in six residents now live in an overcrowded home.
With current levels of overcrowding the worst on record, the charity is particularly concerned about the impact on children. Its analysis of the latest government data shows 730,000 children are growing up in overcrowded social housing: 192,000 more children than five years ago (a 36 per cent rise). Previous research and insight from Shelter’s frontline services has demonstrated the damage overcrowding can cause to children’s health, educational attainment, and life chances.
The charity argues the gross undersupply of new social homes is to blame for the scandal. Last year fewer than 7,000 new social homes were built, despite more than one million households being on the waiting list.
With the spiralling costs of homeownership and private renting driving up demand for secure and genuinely affordable social housing, Shelter is calling on the government to invest in building 90,000 new social homes a year to combat overcrowding and end the housing emergency.
Eleanor (not her real name) from London has been living in a one-bedroom flat with her two children, aged six and 11, for nine years. Eleanor said: “We are in desperate need of more space. This hopeless situation has caused me so much distress and has made my depression and anxiety much worse. It has impacted on mine and my children’s life, health and well-being greatly, we’re all sharing one bedroom. I keep trying to find us a bigger home but I’m just facing dead ends. I feel like I have no one to turn to and no one willing to listen or take me seriously.
“Being a single parent on a low income, a lot of private landlords aren’t willing to accept us, and I don’t have the money for a big deposit even if they would. Plus, it’s a very unstable situation when you face eviction anytime with the children. Social housing is and should be for people who need it most, but there just aren’t any homes available.”
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “The devastating level of overcrowding in social housing is scandalous. Years of failure to build social homes mean there are too many people chasing too few homes. Families are literally living on top of each other – something you would expect to see in the Victorian era, not the 21st century.
“The pandemic has left many of us feeling trapped, but for those crammed into homes too small, it’s been a nightmare. Overcrowding puts a strain on every aspect of family life. We’ve got parents sleeping on sofas, siblings all sharing one bed, and babies who don’t have the space to crawl.
“These overcrowded families are stranded with nowhere else to go. Home ownership is out of reach and private renting is too expensive for most. The answer is clear – the government cannot build back better without building good-quality social homes.”
Overcrowding, based on the bedroom standard, considers a household as overcrowded if there are too few bedrooms, resulting in inappropriate sharing of bedrooms – for example parents having to share with older children, or children aged 10 or over having to share a room if they are different sexes.
* Analysis based on figures from the English Housing Survey is available here.
* Source: Shelter England