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Research Findings

What happens to children in persistently


bad housing?
Matt Barnes, Sarah Butt and Wojtek Tomaszewski

To protect the identity of Shelter clients, models have been used in photographs.

The longer children live in bad housing, the more vulnerable they appear to be to a range of poor
outcomes, according to a new NatCen report using findings from the Families and Children Study
in a piece of research jointly funded by Eaga Partnership Charitable Trust and Shelter.

G Over one in eight children (13 per cent) persistently G Large families, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME)
lived in overcrowded accommodation between 2001 families and families in the rented sector
and 2005 according to analysis of the Families and disproportionately lived in persistent bad housing.
Children Study (FACS), which interviews the same G Policy-makers need to address the various ways
families at annual intervals. bad housing appears to detrimentally affect
G In addition, 6 per cent of children persistently lived outcomes for children and focus on reducing the
in poorly-repaired accommodation and 4 per cent in substantial number of children who live in bad
inadequately-heated accommodation. housing for long periods.
G The longer children lived in bad housing, the more G Interventions in housing provision for families are
likely they were to suffer from health problems, get likely to lead to improvements in many other
bullied and struggle to keep up with homework. aspects of children’s lives.
What happens to children in persistently bad housing?

One in four children lived in overcrowded, A substantial number of children persistently


poorly-repaired or inadequately-heated lived in bad housing between 2001 and
accommodation. 2005.
We measured three types of bad housing in this study – Our research analysed data from interviews with the
overcrowded, poorly-repaired and inadequately-heated. same families over five consecutive years from 2001 to
1. Overcrowded accommodation: housing deemed 2005, and categorised children according to the number
too small for a family according to the established of times they lived in bad housing during that time.
‘bedroom standard’ criterion, which takes into G Persistent bad housing means children were
account the number of rooms and the size and living in bad housing at three or more of the five
composition of the family. interviews.
2. Accomodation in poor state of repair: housing G Short-term bad housing means bad housing at
suffering from three or more problems including one or two interviews.
rising damp in the floor or walls, general rot and G No bad housing means children avoided bad
decay, and draughts. housing over the period.
3. Inadequately-heated accommodation: housing Overcrowding was the housing problem children were
which the family couldn’t keep warm enough in most likely to experience on a persistent basis. Fewer
winter. children persistently experienced accommodation that
FACS measures bad housing by asking the mother was inadequately heated or in a poor state of repair.
about her accommodation, unlike some specialist G 13 per cent of children persistently lived in
housing surveys which employ an independent overcrowded accommodation.
surveyor to assess the accommodation. Despite its
G 6 per cent of children persistently lived in poorly-
different approach, FACS finds patterns of bad housing
repaired accommodation.
in line with other published research. The proportion of
children living in bad housing has remained fairly G 4 per cent of children persistently lived in
consistent from 2001 to 2005 (Figure 1). inadequately-heated accommodation.

No bad housing (0 years)


Figure 1. Rates of bad housing (2001-2005) Figure 2. Duration of bad
housing (2001-2005) Temporary bad housing (1-2 years)
50
Persistent bad housing (3-5 years)
Overcrowding 100

40 Poor state of repair 90


Percentage of children

Inadequately heated 80
Percentage of children

30 70

60 76 77 87

20 50
15
14 14 14 14
40
9 8 9
10 30
11
7 7 20 11
6 5 5 17
0 10 13 10
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
6 4
0
Overcrowding Poor state of repair Inadequately heated
Base: Dependent children in Britain
Note: ‘Poor state of repair’ is not plotted on this chart as it was Base: Dependent children in Britain
measured slightly differently in FACS 2001.

More children were affected by bad housing over the


period than standard point-in-time estimates may
In 2005, one in four children (25 per cent) were living
suggest. For example, 24 per cent of children
in housing which qualified as ‘bad’ on at least one of
experienced overcrowding at least once over the
the three counts we measured, while a minority (5 per
five-year period (compared with 15 per cent of children
cent) were living in housing which qualified as ‘bad’ on
in 2005).
more than one count.
Social-rented housing was more likely to be Figure 3. Other negative outcomes for children
persistently overcrowded, while private- according to the duration of living in bad
housing (2001-2005)
rented housing was more likely to be
inadequately heated or poorly-repaired.

accomodation
Inadequately
Persistent (3-5 years) 10

Number of previous five years (2001-05)


Child does not have a

heated
The duration of all three types of bad housing varied Short term (1-2 years) 6
quiet place at home
to do homework [1]
by tenure, even after taking account of a range of other None 2

Child has lived in...


circumstances, such as family composition, income Persistent (3-5 years) 25

Poor state of
and geographical area.

repair
Short term (1-2 years) 19 Child has a long-
standing illness
G 26 per cent of children in social-rented None 15 or disability [2]

accommodation persistently lived with Persistent (3-5 years) 12 Child has four or more of ten

accomodation
Overcrowded
disadvantages, including a long-
overcrowding. Short term (1-2 years) 5 standing illness or disability, no regular
exercise, bullied in or out of school, not
seeing friends and being below average
G 19 per cent of children in private-rented None 2 in key academic subjects [3]

accommodation persistently lived in poorly-repaired 0 5 10 15 20 25 30


housing. Percentage of children with negative outcomes
(in 2005)
G 19 per cent of children in private-rented
1
accommodation persistently lived in inadequately- Base: Secondary school children in Britain
2 Dependent children in Britain
heated housing.
3 Secondary school children in Britain
There were other groups of children who were more
likely to experience persistent bad housing.
Persistent overcrowding For children persistently living in overcrowded
accommodation these other negative outcomes were:
G 53 per cent of children in families with four or more
children; G feeling unhappy about their own health;

G 32 per cent of children with an Asian mother. G having no quiet place at home to do homework.

Persistent poor state of repair For children persistently living in accommodation in a


poor state of repair these other negative outcomes
G 10 per cent of children living in one of the 20 per
were:
cent most deprived areas;
G having a longstanding illness or disability;
G 12 per cent of children in families below the income
poverty line; G having chest or breathing problems;

G 14 per cent of children in families that had a G having stomach, liver or digestive problems;
number of debts. G being bullied in or out of school;
Persistent inadequate heating G feeling unhappy about their family life;
G 10 per cent of children in families that had a Black G getting in trouble with the police.
mother;
For children persistently living in inadequately heated
G 9 per cent of children in lone-parent families; accommodation these other negative outcomes were:
G 11 per cent of children in families that had a G having no quiet place at home to do homework;
number of debts.
G having four or more of the aforementioned negative
outcomes.
Children who persistently lived in bad
housing were more likely to face a range of
other negative outcomes.
Even when taking into account other factors that could
cause poor living standards for children, such as poverty
and poor parental health, an increased duration of living
in bad housing meant children were more likely to face a
number of other negative outcomes (Figure 3).
What happens to children in persistently bad housing?

Implications for policy Methodology


The evidence from FACS suggests that living in bad G The findings from this study are based on analysis
housing for long periods has an adverse impact on of the Families and Children Study (FACS).
children’s lives. Given that there is also evidence of a G FACS began in 1999 with a survey of lone-parent
substantial number of children who spend significant families and low/middle-income couple families with
parts of their childhood living in bad housing, we children in Britain. Since 2001, FACS has surveyed
believe that policy should focus on children who live in families with children irrespective of income.
bad housing for long periods.
G The FACS surveys are carried out via a face-to-face
Policy-makers should also be aware that far more interview with the mother (and the partner in couple
children experience bad housing at some stage during families). The interview covers a range of topics,
childhood than traditional point-in-time surveys suggest. including health, education, income, labour market
The issue of persistent overcrowding for families in activity, childcare, housing and deprivation.
social-rented housing highlights the lack of affordable G The interview asks for information about all children
and suitably-sized accommodation for families in the in the family, including their health and education. A
social-rented sector. But bad housing is not restricted self-completion questionnaire is also given to
to the social-rented sector: our research shows that a children aged 11-15, which asks children about
higher proportion of children in the private-rented sector issues including social activities, problem behaviour
persistently lived in inadequately-heated accommodation and happiness.
or accommodation in a poor state of repair.
G FACS interviews the same families on an annual
Since housing policy is closely connected to the basis, providing information which allows us to observe
particular varieties of tenure, different policy levers work how the circumstances, behaviour and attitudes of
in different sectors. To enable housing policies to target individual families and children change over time.
interventions at the most appropriate groups, policy-
G Almost 7,000 families and 13,000 children take part
makers need to consider the different types of families
in FACS each year. This report focused on the
living in social- and private-rented accommodation. The
6,431 children present in every FACS interview
recent rises in energy prices will also have significant
from 2001 to 2005.
repercussions for families on low income.
Persistently living in bad housing does not only
negatively affect children in and of itself: it also links to Obtaining the full report for this study
a range of other negative outcomes which compromise The full report of these research findings, The
children’s well-being. That is why it is crucial that Dynamics of Bad Housing: The impact of bad housing
policy-makers consider the wider impact of bad on the living standards of children by Matt Barnes,
housing when designing child welfare policies. Our Sarah Butt and Wojtek Tomaszewski (2008) was
research implies that incorporating housing issues into published by NatCen in September 2008.
the policy agenda on the well-being of children will Please visit the NatCen website for details of how to
result in efficiency savings in other policy areas, as access the report: www.natcen.ac.uk
interventions in housing provision and quality are likely
NatCen analyses FACS for a variety of organisations.
to lead to improvements in many other aspects of
For more information on this research or general
children’s lives.
enquiries about FACS, please contact Matt Barnes:
m.barnes@natcen.ac.uk

35 Northampton Square London EC1V 0AX Tel: +44 (0)20 7250 1866 Fax: +44 (0)20 7250 1524
Email: info@natcen.ac.uk www.natcen.ac.uk September 2008

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