Supporting families and children

This content applies to England only.

supporting families and children

1.6 million children in Britain live in housing that is overcrowded, temporary, or run-down. [1]

Some live in housing that’s making them ill. Many are missing out on a decent education. Others suffer chronic insecurity, shuffled from place to place in ‘temporary accommodation’.

And yet homeless children are an invisible group – all too often ignored by national policy, sidelined by local authorities, and a low priority for front-line services.

They deserve better than this.

How bad housing wrecks children’s lives

  • 5.9 million homes in England fail to meet the Government's Decent Home Standard. [2]
  • More than one million children live in overcrowded housing. [3]
  • More than 70,000 homeless children in England are living in temporary accommodation. [4]
  • 3.6 million children in the United Kingdom live in poverty after their housing costs have been paid. [5]

Bad housing has a massive impact on children’s lives, affecting everything from their health and educational achievement, to their emotional well-being and overall life chances:

  • Health: children living in cramped accommodation experience disturbed sleep, poor diet, higher rates of accidents and infectious disease
  • Education: children from homeless households are more likely to suffer from bullying, unhappiness and stigmatisation
  • Emotional well-being: about half of the families taking part in one study conducted by Shelter said their children were frightened, insecure, or worried about the future as a result of their homelessness [6]
  • Life chances: The health and educational impact of poor housing may affect children’s future job prospects and financial well-being.

Read more about children and families

Housing issues affecting young people

Housing issues affecting young people

As young people make the transition to adulthood it can be a difficult time, both financially and emotionally. A number of additional factors make this transition more difficult for young people in vulnerable housing situations, such as lower rates of the minimum wage and benefits, increased likelihood of unemployment and exclusion from housing registers.

Many of the causes of homelessness, such as unemployment, shortage of housing, and family problems, affect young people across the spectrum. However, there are some young people who are more at risk of becoming homeless:

  • care leavers
  • runaways
  • young offenders
  • black and minority ethnic (BME) groups
  • asylum seekers
  • refugees
  • young people from rural areas.

Government action

In 1999, the Government pledged to end child poverty in England by 2020, giving all children the solid start in life they deserve. In April 2004, a ban on the long-term use of bed and breakfast hotels for homeless families with children was introduced. In the same year, the Government published its Every Child Matters strategy with the aim that, whatever their circumstances, every child should have the support they need to:

  • be healthy
  • stay safe
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • achieve economic well-being.

Shelter’s view

Shelter welcomes the commitment successive Governments have made to end child poverty by 2020. However, we are concerned that policies enacted by the government will undermine this goal. University of Cambridge research commissioned by Shelter found that cuts to housing benefit risked pushing more children into poverty.

Shelter strongly believes that access to decent affordable housing must be at the heart of any strategy for improving the life chances of children and young people and reducing child poverty. This means addressing issues such as:

  • the acute shortage of social rented housing
  • overcrowding
  • housing affordability
  • funding for tenancy sustainment and housing advice services
  • benefit cuts that threaten housing affordability.

Campaign demands

Shelter’s million children campaign sought to end child homelessness. We’ve made progress, including securing the commitment that homeless families will not be housed in bed and breakfast hotels long term.

To fully achieve our goal we need the right framework of policies and laws in place, including:

  • a new responsibility for local authorities to assess, understand and meet the specific needs of children living in temporary accommodation
  • continuing the commitments set out in the Every Child Matters programme to help  children achieve their full potential
  • better co-ordination between housing departments and children’s services
  • a trained member of staff in every Children Centre who can advise and help homeless families
  • proper consideration of children's needs by local authorities before evicting families for anti-social behaviour
  • support for families whose homelessness applications are turned down to enable them to find and keep a home in the private rented sector
  • Government guidelines to ensure that housing and social services work together to meet the needs of homeless 16 and 17 year olds
  • a new duty on local authorities to avoid causing disruption to children’s schooling when placing families in temporary accommodation
  • funding for local authorities to create support services to help prevent and alleviate child homelessness.

[1] Rice, B. Against the Odds, Shelter, 2006.
[2] English Housing Survey Headline Report, 2010-11.
[3]  Figures supplied by DCLG from Survey of English Housing.
[4]  DCLG Live Table 775
[5]  Households Below Average Income - An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95-2010/11, DWP, 2012.
[6] Rice B, Against the Odds, Shelter, 2006


Back to top