Many of you will have watched the BBC’s documentary ’Poor Kids’ on Tuesday night. It was a powerful hour of television that highlighted the plight of children in the UK growing up in poverty. The programme showed the terrible housing conditions that these children were living in, with 10-year-old Paige from Glasgow telling viewers that the mould in her damp-ridden flat made her ill.
Our research suggests that sadly Paige is just one of very many children in Britain to live in bad housing. In fact, our research shows that one in four children live in accommodation with at least one of the following problems: 'overcrowding' (too small given the size and composition of the family), 'poor state of repair' (has three or more problems including rising damp, rot, decay and draughts), and 'inadequate heating' (unable to be kept warm enough in winter).
Even when other factors are taken into account, like low income and poor parental health, children living in bad housing are disadvantaged. They are more likely to face health problems, be bullied and struggle to keep up with homework. And the potential long term effects are clear, with numerous studies telling us that a disadvantaged childhood can lead to sustained disadvantage in adulthood.
Given the ongoing rise in energy costs, it’s not surprising that our research shows that families who live in inadequately heated accommodation experience income poverty. In the current economic downturn these families are particularly vulnerable. They’re more likely to be without work, live in rented accommodation, be in debt and have no savings. But tackling the problem is complex, as other research we’ve done shows that fuel poverty manifests itself differently for private and social renters. Private renters tend to experience poor housing conditions, whilst social renters are more likely to reduce their fuel use and live in a cold home.
There’s a clear message to policy makers in all this. Improving housing conditions will also improve children's lives in the round. Improving the quality of houses that our children live in is not just a moral imperative, it’ll also return efficiency savings in relation to other policy goals linked to child outcomes such as health and education. The importance of children’s housing has been recognised by the sponsors of our research - eaga Charitable Trust and Shelter - who’ve actively used our findings in their campaigning work to improve the lives of the UK’s poorest children.