Far more action needed for children suffering from overcrowding

Post by Ade Sofala of the 4in10 campaign.

4in10 is a coalition of charities and public agencies working with and campaigning on behalf of children living in poverty in London. It is based in Save the Children’s London Office.  It’s name is taken from the statistic that 4 in 10 children in London live in poverty.

David and Laura have been on their local council’s housing waiting list for a move to a larger two-bedroom flat since Jordan was born almost four years ago.  At first, it wasn’t too bad having his cot and baby things in their bedroom.  But now he needs a bed of his own there just isn’t room for much else apart from a small chest of drawers.  David and Laura do their best but really worry how they will fit everything in when Jordan starts school.

Across London, almost a quarter of a million families like David and Laura’s are cramped into overcrowded homes.  Overcrowding is well known to have a serious impact on the health, education and life chances of children.  When one child falls ill in an overcrowded home, their brothers and sisters usually do too.  And it can be incredibly difficult for teenagers to find the quiet space they need to concentrate on their homework and study for exams.  Overcrowding is especially unfair on teenage girls having to share rooms with their brothers.

Of course, the chronic shortage of genuinely affordable social housing lies at the root of this crisis.  The records show that governments of all political colours have failed to consistently provide the level of funding needed to replace all those council homes sold under the Right to Buy, let alone add to the stock.  As a result, the number of overcrowded households in the Capital has been growing inexorably – up by 80,000 in the past decade alone.

Shelter says that 391,000 children live in these overcrowded homes.  That’s a quarter of London’s children who are not as healthy as they might be or doing as well in school as they could be just because of their housing.  In a city as wealthy as ours, youngsters just shouldn’t have to endure such inadequate housing standards.  That’s why the 4in10 campaign is now calling on the Mayor of London to take more decisive action to tackle the problem.

In 2010, Boris Johnson published an Overcrowding Action Plan, which included a target to halve the number of families living in severe overcrowding by 2016.  At first sight, that sounds promising.  But it actually represents fewer than 5 per cent of all London’s overcrowded families.  The Mayor can and should do better.  In fact, 4in10 believes that, if the Mayor was to focus political attention on this problem, he should be able to halve the number of children living in overcrowded conditions by 2020.

Meeting this target certainly won’t be easy, especially when Government funding for housing has been slashed and benefits are being severely capped.  But surely, the alternative of more and more of London’s children have their young lives blighted by growing up in overcrowded homes, is even worse.  If we really want every young Londoner to be able to fulfil their potential in life, its time the needs of the Capital’s 391,000 overcrowded children became a genuine political priority in City Hall.

To halve overcrowding by 2020, the Mayor will obviously have to secure a big increase in public investment.  Ideally, funding needs to be restored to the levels the Coalition inherited.  No doubt, it won’t make the Mayor popular in Downing Street to publicly start calling for that level of funding.  But if he can publicly lobby the Treasury for a new airport, there is no excuse not to demand more funding for homes for London’s children too.  He should also be encouraging more of London’s councils to build some homes themselves.

That is the only way to ensure that young families like David, Laura and Jordan have a decent chance of getting the family home they need.

Please join us in calling on Mayor Boris Johnson to commit to halve the number of children growing up in overcrowded homes by 2020.  You can sign our petition here.

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