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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 22-Jul-15 16:41:43

Guest post: Child poverty - "too many families are living in cold, cramped housing"

In light of a report from the National Children's Bureau on how poor housing and services affect children from low-income families, Fiona Elsted looks at the reality of child poverty

Fiona Elsted


Posted on: Wed 22-Jul-15 16:41:43


Lead photo

"The physical and psychological effects of a poor home on a child are inescapable."

We walked to and from school together, me, my daughter and Bethany. The girls all giggles, whispers and cartwheels. No more though. Bethany stopped turning up at school and the word was that she and her family had been evicted. Despite the fact that her mum worked several jobs to try to make ends meet, ultimately the private rent was too much for someone on a low income.

Bethany's family had been trying to find a smaller place that was within walking distance of the same school, but they had their work cut out for them. Finding a place to rent with a young family is not easy. Negotiating the rental sector is tricky at the best of times – throw in a child or two, a low income and housing benefit and you've really got yourself a problem.

As a parent you don't want to just 'make do'. You know the importance of your housing; you look for safety, warmth, community, services like schools, space for books and toys and a garden. Meanwhile, young children have heartbreakingly basic lists of what makes their home nice: having a bath, eating mum's cooking, sleeping in their beds, playing, riding their bikes.

This list is not random, but is part of the results of research undertaken recently by the National Children's Bureau, which aimed to understand how children and their parents experience early years, health and housing services and the extent to which those services do or could reduce the impact of living on a low income. Significantly, it was housing which was identified as being "the area needing most development to meet the needs of families with children".

This comes as no surprise to those of us who live in it. Housing is in a mess. I have lived for 13 years in the private rented sector with my young family and know it rarely works well. Unfortunately, the report suggests my experiences are mirrored across the country. There are plenty of others living in accommodation with too many faults that do not get fixed, in some cases being put up with for fear of upsetting the landlord. There are too many families living in homes which are not fit for purpose because there's nothing else available. This often means cramped living conditions with no study or play areas and no safe outdoor space for fun and games.

Too much instability can lead to nightmares, bedwetting, generalised anxieties, separation anxiety, and behavioural issues – not forgetting the effect it has on academic progress. What children really need is a good, safe home.

Many more families are paying ridiculously high energy bills because accommodation is poorly insulated and full of old appliances – or they may try to save money by using heating as little as possible, which research suggests leads to children getting ill three times more frequently than those not in energy debt. Parents are battling mould and damp, knowing its presence will exacerbate existing conditions. The constant worry about whether the rent can be paid this month hangs over their heads, alongside fears as to whether contracts will be renewed. Parents try to shield their children from these stresses, but the physical and psychological effects of a poor home, another home and school move or a debt collection visit on their child are inescapable.

The NCB report suggests that the children appear much happier with their living situations than their parents, tending to talk more about what they like in their homes than what they don't like. Children are incredibly perceptive, however; experience and research indicate that they will feel the tension in stressful environments irrespective of how hard you try to protect them. Too much instability can lead to nightmares, bedwetting, generalised anxieties, separation anxiety, and behavioural issues – not forgetting the effect it has on academic progress. What children really need is a good, safe home – and the state should be providing it if necessary.

My hope is that Bethany and her family, and all others on a low income struggling to secure appropriate housing, find what they need. I fear, however, that they will be in a B&B for a long time, where many of the basic comforts that children look for in a home will be absent. Prospects for low-income renters do not look hopeful. The current government is planning to implement welfare changes which will further reduce the income of many families, and predictions are that hundreds of thousands of children are going to be negatively affected. In a housing system which is already broken, that is a concern.

The NBC report reminds us of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that a child has a right to 'an adequate standard of living' and to 'have their best interests taken into account'. I wonder to what extent we can say that these standards are being met for children like Bethany?

By Fiona Elsted

Twitter: @fielsted

AnyoneForTennis Wed 22-Jul-15 17:33:24

A child does have a right to an adequate standard of living..... But it's the parents job to provide/secure that not the governments

Which welfare changes are going to cause children to be 'negatively affected'?

Todayisnottheday Wed 22-Jul-15 17:53:40

Totally agree tennis. It's the parents job to provide an adequate standard of living.

It's the government's job to ensure there are adequate jobs earning an adequate wage to provide that standard of living.

If the lowest paid full time workers do not earn enough to provide good basic living without top ups then the system is broken.

FeelTheNoise Wed 22-Jul-15 18:39:10

And sometimes, providing what is needed is fucking difficult. The only constant stability I had during long periods of illness was my council house

swisscheesetony Wed 22-Jul-15 19:33:57

There but for the grace of God. I have a council house. I live in an area deemed undesirable by "most" - but I knew that I needed to give my children stability where they could stay at the same school and we would not be turfed out every 6 months.

We are not very well off right now - but we have a secure roof over our heads and when I call the council they come straight away - seriously, in the last 8 weeks I've had them out TWICE on a Saturday.

I know as a parent it's my duty to provide the very best I can for my children - and in this instance it has meant securing council accommodation - everything else can be worked on.

I cannot emphasize enough what a fundamental point this is.

Atenco Wed 22-Jul-15 20:09:02

There but for the grace of God go all of us, to tell the truth.

AnyoneForTennis The example given is of a woman who works several jobs trying to keep a roof over the head of her children, but don't let that affect your judgy pants

You're right - it's not the government's job to provide a good standard of living. However, if you live in an area where housing is comparatively expensive, but there is very little well-paid employment, or very few job opportunities at all, how do you provide? For years, successive governments have allowed social housing to be sold off, and have not replaced it. The tax credits system that was supposed to top up low wages has instead allowed wages to stagnate, and now the government plans to remove a portion of these benefits, starting next year, but the increase in minimum wage is going to rise much more slowly.

Added to which, as the OP has said, tenants often simply daren't complain if their house is poorly insulated, or damp, or the gas fire has been condemned for the past year. Even if the house isn't safe. Even if the windowframes are so rotten the glass rattles & the wood is spongy. Even when there are holes in the roof, the boiler repeatedly breaks, the black mould has got so bad because the bathroom fan never worked & I have severe asthma. I daren't complain. The waiting list for council housing round here is really long, & we wouldn't get another private tenancy.

iniquity Wed 22-Jul-15 22:52:23

There is a housing crisis that no government has bothered to tackle. It has nothing to do with feckless parents not wanting to look after their children.
I'm sure anyonefortennis probably feels low income families should either live in slum conditions or not have any kids at all.
But if only the better off have kids then we will have to import more people from abroad... Who will then have the same choices as the lower income family.

Atenco Thu 23-Jul-15 04:42:07

Maybe because I live in an earthquake zone or maybe I've studied history, I know that just because you are up right now Tennis is no guarantee that you or your children will not be down at another stage. Life has many twists and turns and having a bit of empathy for people who are doing so well at the moment will not guarantee that things don't go bad, but at least you will have a clear conscience if they do.

swisscheesetony Thu 23-Jul-15 08:16:41

Life can be a slippery little fucker. In 2005 I had a detached house in the country, drove a BMW, skied several weeks a year overseas and had other expensive hobbies.

In 2015 I'm a single mum, have a council and last night the council phoned to tell me they've awarded me a grant to buy a cooker.

Funny old thing life.

CalamityGem Thu 23-Jul-15 14:16:08

I grew up in a financially comfortable comfortable environment but after loosing my job and my flat whilst having to support my husband we were given a council flat. We stayed in it for four years, long enough to get sorted. Now after many years we have our own detached home. I'll always be grateful for that help when we needed it, and fully aware that I may again one day.

Atenco Thu 23-Jul-15 16:45:11

Uuf, as I say I don't live in UK, but Mexico, where there is no social safety net. Last night my dd brought home a friend of a friend. A woman with two small children who left a violent marriage, has no support from her family and now homeless. Unbelievable that some people in the UK are happy to have the safety net you have removed.

Ally1234 Thu 23-Jul-15 23:08:47

I think we put far too much pressure on having the "perfect" home. As the article says, children don't want much. Not really. And most are happy in their homes. It's the parents who aren't, and it's the tension with the unhappy parents that adversely effects the children. It we all learnt to relax and say, hey it's ok that our kids have to share a room as it teaches children compromising and respect, and it's ok there isn't a garden because their are some fab play parks, and it's ok that the local school isn't the best because we know that what children learn at home is far more important then in a classroom and then maybe, just maybe, we can be content and even grateful that we have homes that have central heating, clean water on tap, electricity 24/7 and if we could be a bit happier then so will our children.

textfan Fri 24-Jul-15 02:04:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Atenco Fri 24-Jul-15 02:18:53

I agree with you Ally in principle, though I don't really see what this has to do with homelessness. We had a lot of poverty when I was a child, but it was my mother who was the most affected, having to always say no, for example. However we didn't suffer homelessness or go hungry.

katienana Fri 24-Jul-15 07:43:00

what could be a more basic fundamental role for government than to ensure it's citizens have a decent standard of living?

swisscheesetony Fri 24-Jul-15 08:01:32

I think Ally may have missed the point when she says we want a home worth of a DPS in "homes & gardens" and that we should be grateful for the basics - ie running water, central heating and electricity.
I thought that was the blog's very point - those amenities are not available to all.

Fwiw my fucking amazing council house does not have central heating - but beggars/choosers eh?

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