Living in confined conditions has a devastating effect on family life, especially children’s safety and general health. Children in overcrowded housing are up to 10 times more likely to contract meningitis than children in general.
The current legal definition of overcrowding, which remains unchanged since 1935, does not count children under one-year-old as a person living in the property and considers kitchens and living rooms as acceptable places to sleep. Under the current legal standard, a family of four living in a one-bedroom flat would not be classed as living in overcrowded accommodation.
There are already thousands of overcrowded families on the local authority housing waiting lists, in desperate need of an affordable family-sized home. Even more worryingly, recent Local Government Association estimates predict waiting lists will rise to top two million by 2011.
Sam Younger, Shelter’s Chief Executive, said: "For too long the issue of children living in overcrowded housing has been a hidden problem.
"There is no doubt that overcrowding has a massive impact on children’s health, safety and future prospects and can cause depression for parents struggling to cope in cramped conditions. With many children unable to study due to a lack of space, the impact of overcrowding is robbing them of an education and a fair chance in life.
"Government must ensure enough affordable family-sized homes are built and introduce an updated definition of overcrowding that reflects a modern need for space and privacy."
Jacqueline Pennant lives in a small two-bedroom house in Wandsworth, with her three children. Due to her cramped conditions her daughter sleeps in her bed and her younger son sleeps on a make-shift bed on the floor of her bedroom.
She says: "My youngest has chronic asthma, which is made worse by sleeping so low to the ground and he has been in hospital a few times with the condition.
"My daughter shares a bed with me, which is not only inappropriate at her age, but incredibly painful for me. We can’t carry on living in these conditions, my children are growing up fast and this is no way for them to live. I am so worried about the future."
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