According to the English Housing Survey a quarter of a million families in social housing live in conditions officially acknowedged as overcrowded. Often they also have the challenge of one or more member of the household being disabled. There are 900,000 homes in social housing with at least one adult who is disabled or long term sick. There are many others with disabled children. Frequently these are also overcrowded properties.
Critics of the Government's changes to Housing Benefits to reduce under-occupancy often portray the change as an attack on the disabled, never mentioning the needs of the disabled in overcrowded accomodation.
It is right that the Government have made some exceptions from the new rules. A carer for a disabled person who lives in the accommodation as their home is included when making the the assessment of the number of bedrooms required. A bedroom is also allowed for a non-resident carer where the claimant or their partner requires overnight care. Children who have a disability such that they cannot share a bedroom with a sibling are exempt from the housing criteria.
A report for the Joseph Rowntree Trust found that:
More families with a disabled child were under-accommodated compared to families with non-disabled children (12 per cent vs. 10 per cent), and more families with non-disabled children (67 per cent) were living in homes with at least one more room than they required compared to families with disabled children (61 per cent).
The FACS figures on overcrowding also show families with a disabled child are disadvantaged on this housing indicator, and are significantly more likely to have insufficient bedrooms compared to families with non-disabled children (16 per cent vs. 9 per cent) (Emerson and Hatton, 2005). A study conducted twenty years earlier reported a similar situation (17 per cent vs. 8.5 per cent) (Cooke and Lawton, 1985), suggesting there has been little progress on this issue in the intervening years.
A London Assembly report Crowded Houses says:
- Households that experience multiple housing problems (including overcrowding) increased children’s risk of ill-health and disability by up to 25 per cent.
- Children in overcrowded housing are up to ten times more likely to contract meningitis than children in general.
- There is a direct link between childhood tuberculosis and overcrowding.
- Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have also been linked to overcrowded and unfit housing.
- Overcrowded housing affects children's ability to learn at home and study at school.
- Children in overcrowded homes miss more school due to illnesses and infections.
- Overcrowding is linked to delayed cognitive development.
I am proud the Government is bringing in a bold reform to offer hope of better housing to people with these problems.