Collingwood House in Tower Hamlets

Shortage of affordable housing has led to mass overcrowding

People of all ages across the country are affected by overcrowding as a result of a shortage in affordable housing, a report by the National Housing Federation (NHF) found.

The report considered homes overcrowded if more than two children under the age of 10, two teenagers of different sexes, or two adults who are not in a relationship share a room.

More than two million children, or one in six, are currently living in overcrowded homes while more than 300,000 are forced to share a bed with a family member.

Overcrowding in the social sector indicates a shortage of available housing and housing of the right size, while in the private sector it indicates a struggle to find affordable housing.

The report credited the chronic shortage of social housing as the main cause of overcrowding. 

Families living in social housing make up almost half of those affected by overcrowding, while families on a low income but renting privately because they cannot get access to social housing make up an additional third.

This is because fees of privately rented homes are sometimes double that of social housing.

Jacqueline Broadhead, the Director of Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity at the University of Oxford, said that migrants are particularly vulnerable to overcrowding, especially those who have no recalls to public funds. 

She stated that migrants are much more likely to be house-sharing and sofa surfing because they have no welfare safety net and due to the cost of living crisis, wages are not rising at the same rate as rent prices so they have been at a significant risk of homelessness.

Broadhead agreed with the reports findings, saying there is not a lot of housing available within the benefit rate.

However, she hopes that new funds from the Department for Levelling Up, which gave 500 million to local councils to support housing, will help improve the situation.

Bahar Ahmed, the Letting and Sales Manager, at housing association Poplar HARCA, has been dealing with overcrowding in Tower Hamlets for 15 years. 

He said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of overcrowding but agrees that a major contributor to overcrowding is a lack of family-sized housing available both in the private and social sector, especially in London. 

His personal experience in Tower Hamlets is that about more than half of the people on the waiting list for a suitable home are from different cultural backgrounds and tend to have larger families, so it is often difficult to find a property with the right number of bedrooms.

Ahmed said: “Housing associations and local authorities need to be more creative with their solutions.”

He acknowledges it is a difficult task because the solution can never be to just build new homes, especially not in certain parts of London, as there is a lack of space. 

Ahmed added that people are less likely to accept housing offered too far away from the region they are currently in, especially not outside of London, and would rather choose to live in the overcrowded conditions which also poses a problem.

However, he believes it is vital to come up with a solution soon because overcrowding leads to serious problems among the family and has personally seen overcrowding lead to conflict within families, significant mental health problems, and increased condensation and mould. 

Most worrying though, is the impact overcrowding has on kids as it can affect everything from their sleeping pattern and the amount of sleep they are able to get, to their punctuality and performance in school.

Dr Tammy Boyce, a Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Health, said there are serious health concerns for people, especially children, in overcrowded households. 

Her experience is similar to Ahmed’s, as she stated children in overcrowded homes often tend to fall behind in school because it’s harder for them to concentrate or find a quiet place to study at home. 

She added that they also tend to experience mental health problems at a higher rate when compared with their classmates who do not live in overcrowded conditions.

Featured image copyright Ian S and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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