TWO MILLION CHILDREN (1.96 million) in England – one in every five – are living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes, according to new findings released by the National Housing Federation in its annual ‘state of the nation’ report on England’s housing crisis.

Two thirds of these children (1.3 million) are in need of social housing as this is the only suitable and affordable type of home for their families. Social rented homes are typically 50 per cent of market rents and the most affordable and secure homes for those on low incomes.

The People in housing need report reveals, for the first time, the true extent to which England’s broken housing market is affecting its children – a crisis caused by decades of underfunding by successive governments and resulting in a dire shortage of homes that are affordable for lower income families. It breaks down how people are affected by different aspects of the housing crisis and what type of home would be most suitable for their needs based on their income and circumstances.

According to the findings, the biggest single housing issue affecting children in England is overcrowding. There are 1.1 million children living in overcrowded homes, accounting for almost one in three (30 per cent) people affected by overcrowding. Living in these cramped conditions has a detrimental impact on a child’s health and development, and harms family life and education. Underfunding for social rent, coupled with the fact that larger homes are more expensive to build, has led to an acute shortage of family-sized social homes. This has caused overcrowding to continue rising rapidly, increasing by 13 per cent in just three years.

There are currently a million children whose families cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments. The largest proportion of these families are renting privately and being pushed into poverty by high rents, juggling paying for bills, food and other living costs in order to keep a roof over their heads. However, cuts to benefits mean there are some families that cannot even afford the cheapest forms of social housing.

Some 293,000 children are living in homes that are unsuitable for their needs or health requirements, while 283,000 are living with their families in other people’s homes – effectively homeless – as their families cannot afford a home of their own. Additionally, government figures show that there are 124,000 homeless children living in temporary accommodation. This figure has risen by 81 per cent in the last ten years.

This research, carried out by Heriot Watt University, gives the best estimate to date of housing need in England. Local housing waiting lists have often been used to estimate housing need. However, these registers are unreliable, particularly since the introduction of strict requirements for applicants to have a ‘local connection’, preventing many from joining the register. According to these new findings, there are half a million more families in need of social housing than are recorded on official housing waiting lists. This equates to 4.2 million people, including a staggering 1.3 million children.

Children are disproportionately affected by the shortage of social homes. While children account for a fifth (19 per cent) of the population in England, they make up almost a third (30 per cent) of people in need of social housing.

Last year, the government committed £11.5 billion to build 180,000 new affordable homes over the next five years through the Affordable Homes Programme. This is a significant sum and the first commitment to funding for social rent since 2010. However, while this funding is welcome, with 1.6 million families in need of social housing, more needs to be done. Previous research by Heriot Watt University for Crisis and the National Housing Federation shows 90,000 social rented homes must be built each year to meet demand.

The National Housing Federation is calling on the government to prioritise long term and sustained investment in social housing as part of its plans to ‘level up’ disadvantaged communities across the country.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Today’s report shows that our children are fast becoming the biggest victims of a broken housing market. It is nothing short of tragic that so many children are forced to live in cramped conditions, sharing bedrooms and sometimes beds with parents and siblings while their families struggle to cover the costs of their food, clothes and shelter.

“Amongst those families affected will be many of the key workers that keep our economy going such as teachers, nurses and labourers. By not providing the homes these families can afford to live in, we are depriving millions of children of a decent chance in life.

“Every child deserves to live in a safe, secure and affordable home which is why we’re calling on the government to prioritise sustained and long term investment in social housing.”

* Read People in housing need 2021 here.

* Source: National Housing Federation