People become homeless for a wide variety of intricate reasons. Giving someone a roof over their head is not always enough to assist them in escaping homelessness. To prevent and end homelessness it is essential to make sure there is a supply of accessible and affordable housing.
Local governments are finding it more difficult to find long-term housing for homeless families in Britain due to a chronic shortage of social housing, private rents exceeding benefits, and shrinking council finances. As a result, the number of people residing in temporary housing has been challenging over recent years, with 94,870 households or 62.7% included dependent children, with a total of 120,710 dependent children living in temporary accommodation according to a 2022 report.
One of the many personal, societal, and environmental factors that affect health disparities is housing. According to a report by the National Housing Association one in five children in England, or two million young people, live in overcrowded, unaffordable or inadequate houses while two thirds of these children and young people (1.3 million) are in need of social housing. Social housing is around 50% of the price of market rents meaning that they are the most affordable and secure homes for those on low incomes.
The requirements of young children and other areas of the population should be taken into consideration while local authorities carry out their existing obligations in the areas of housing, spatial planning and help for vulnerable families.
These responsibilities include helping homeless families with children find acceptable housing, enforcing rental housing standards, managing environmental health, and planning new developments so that they take the requirements of the local people into account.
Why is there so much bad housing in the UK?
Former Health secretary Savid Javid had told ITV News that housing challenge in the UK has been longstanding over many years when he was Housing Secretary.
According to Unison, housing issues and bad housing could be as a result of:
- The impact of austerity and cuts to housing services and jobs
- The lack of effective regulation in the private rented sector
- The lack of skills or capacity in council housing departments to build new homes
- The dramatic reduction in the supply of social and genuinely affordable housing through policies like the Right to Buy.
What is considered bad housing?
The Government describes a decent home as one that is wind and weather tight, warm and has modern facilities. Any housing in need of substantial structural repairs, damp, cold, infested or lacks modern facilities is termed poor or unfit.
Bad housing would contravene all of these points that describe a decent home and would technically not be suitable for people to live in.
How does bad housing affect children’s health?
There is no denying that living in substandard housing has an effect on children’s health. Strong data supports the impact of cold, dampness, and mould. Mould and fungi produce allergens that can cause asthma and other respiratory issues, wet conditions are conducive to the growth of bacteria and viruses, and cold temperatures reduce resistance to respiratory infections.
Children are more affected by dampness and mould than adults. Children who live in damp, mouldy homes are between 1.5 and 3 times more likely than children who live in dry homes to experience coughing and wheezing, symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems, according to reviews of the data conducted in the UK and other countries.
Such symptoms can result in lack of sleep, limitations on kids’ everyday activities and absences from school, all of which have long-term effects on a kid’s ability to grow as a person.
Researchers have found that children who live in poor housing are more likely to suffer from worse general health, worse respiratory health and asthma. A similar situation for adults of working age as they are disproportionately exposed to the risk of poor general health, poor mental health and breathing problems.
According to Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director at UCL Institute of Health Equity, “this is an unacceptable state-of-affairs as it blights children’s future permanently. Our homes provide the living environment that dictates our future health. We know that living in cold, damp and mouldy homes leads to lung damage in children and impairs their development.”
He goes on to say that children would be less likely to do their homework and will be less able to do so as well if they live in bad conditions, meaning that they will fall behind in their schoolwork and will not be able to keep up with their peers.
In the long term, this could potentially lead to low-income jobs, unstable work and struggle to make ends-meet. According to many, educational achievements are key predictors of long-term health.
What is being done to help with bad housing?
The latest government figures show that the number of families with children in temporary accommodation outside London has increased by more than 20% and as a proportion of the population also saw an 8% increase. Councils are facing a major challenge in finding affordable rental housing so temporary housing residents have been staying longer resting in the extension of time people are living in temporary accommodation.
Organisations and children’s charities should be aware of signs of illness associated with poor housing and ways to support families and children who are experiencing life in poor living conditions. Possibilities to support healthier living spaces for children should be explored with parents and appropriate medical support in case of illness should be pointed out immediately.
Charities are doing a lot to help children living in bad housing. For example, Shelter have a Home Team support that helps and provide advice for vulnerable families who are homeless or facing bad housing. The same goes for Habitat for humanity whose vision is to build homes habitable for the homeless, orphans and vulnerable families.
The government have also introduced a Cold Weather Plan for England to assist by advising families on how to take steps to reduce the effects of cold and wet weather, and by giving them access to free improvements and discounts to which they are entitled.
This might even include practical support to prepare for improvements such as help clearing lofts before insulation is installed. Where housing associations aim to improve energy efficiency of their appliances, they may have to find new sources of funding for this and will want to ensure that any investment is targeted at those most in need.
What can be done next?
It has been advocated by some the need to invest in social housing, which will increase livelihood opportunities for families struggling with a cost-of-living crisis that continues to fuel housing shortages.
Every child has the right to thrive in a safe and affordable home, and poor housing can severely impact children’s well-being and education. It further sets back and impacts the life chances of homeless children. To free thousands of children and their families from poor housing and homelessness, governments have been urged to take action to end the housing shortage and prioritize sustainable long-term investment in public housing.