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1.5 million people crammed into England’s overcrowded social homes

Posted 28 Jul 2021


New research from Shelter reveals the shocking scale of overcrowding in England, with over 1.5 million people forced to live in overcrowded social homes. This has increased by 44% in the last five years (representing an extra 467,000 people). One in six residents now live in an overcrowded home. 


With current levels of overcrowding the worst on record, the charity is particularly concerned about the impact on children. Its analysis of the latest government data shows 730,000 children are growing up in overcrowded social homes, 192,000 more children than five years ago (a 36% rise). Previous research and insight from Shelter’s frontline services has demonstrated the damage overcrowding can cause to children’s health, educational attainment, and life chances.  


The charity argues the gross undersupply of new social homes is to blame for the scandal. Last year fewer than 7,000 new social homes were built, despite more than one million households being on the waiting list.  


With the spiralling costs of homeownership and private renting driving up demand for secure and genuinely affordable social housing, Shelter is calling on the government to invest in building 90,000 new social homes a year to combat overcrowding and end the housing emergency. 


Eleanor*, 29, from London has been living in a one-bedroom flat with her two children, aged six and 11, for nine years. 


Eleanor said: “We
are in desperate need of more space. This hopeless situation has caused
me so much distress and has made my depression and anxiety much worse.
It has impacted on mine and my children’s life, health and well-being
greatly, we’re all sharing one bedroom. I keep trying to find us a
bigger home but I’m just facing dead ends. I feel like I have no one to
turn to and no one willing to listen or take me seriously. 


a single parent on a low income, a lot of private landlords aren’t
willing to accept us, and I don’t have the money for a big deposit even
if they would. Plus, it’s a very unstable situation when you face
eviction anytime with the children. Social housing is and should be for
people who need it most, but there just aren’t any homes available.” 


Polly Neate, chief executive, Shelter said: “The devastating level of overcrowding in social housing is scandalous. Years of failure to build social homes mean there are too many people chasing too few homes. Families are literally living on top of each other – something you would expect to see in the Victorian era, not the 21st century.  


“The pandemic has left many of us feeling trapped, but for those crammed into homes too small, it’s been a nightmare. Overcrowding puts a strain on every aspect of family life. We’ve got parents sleeping on sofas, siblings all sharing one bed, and babies who don’t have the space to crawl. 


“These overcrowded families are stranded with nowhere else to go. Home ownership is out of reach and private renting is too expensive for most. The answer is clear - the government cannot build back better without building good-quality social homes.” 



*Eleanor’s name has been changed to protect her identity 

Notes to editors:

Notes to editor: 

About the research: The figures presented in the press release come from analysis of the English Housing Survey publicly accessible data, sourced from the UK Data Archive.  To ensure robust estimates of people in overcrowded hosing, Shelter used three years of data to improve the sample size for estimates of population size and household sizes overcrowded in social housing. Shelter used survey data from 2018-19, 2017-18 and 2016-17 to compare with five years earlier; using data from the survey in 2013-14, 2012-13 and 2011-12. 13-14, 2012-13 and 2011-12.  


Overcrowding, based on the bedroom standard, considers a
household as overcrowded if there are too few bedrooms, resulting in
inappropriate sharing of bedrooms – for example parents having to share
with older children, or children aged 10 or over having to share a room
if they are different sexes. Link here. 


conducted two online surveys of teachers to capture the impact of bad
housing and homelessness on the children they teach in 2019 and 2020. Details published here. 


About Shelter: We
exist to defend the right to a safe home and fight the devastating
impact the housing emergency has on people and society. We believe that
home is everything. Visit