This wonderful film was made by children in Westminster who, when asked to come up with an issue for the In My Back Yard project, realised that many of them lived in overcrowded housing. And they want the Mayor to know about it.
240,000 households in London are overcrowded, an increase of 80,000 over the last decade. Half of these households are in social housing, 105,000 are in private rented accommodation. 391,000 of London’s children live in overcrowded homes, up 18% since 2008 – that’s 24% of all children in the capital.
At a forum in City Hall yesterday, we heard from children who share beds and don’t have the space or quiet to do homework. We also heard about a campaign by 4in10 to get Boris Johnson to increase his current goal of reducing overcrowding in social housing by 5,500 households by 2016 (just 5% of families) to a higher target of halving the number of overcrowded children by 2020. It’s ambitious, but is it better to aim high and fall short than aim low and, by comparison, fall even shorter?
You can see from the video that overcrowding affects children’s education, but it also contributes to poor mental and physical health – Newham and Brent are two of the most overcrowded boroughs, and also have increasing incidences of tuberculosis and respiratory illnesses. (Some other parts of the country take overcrowding so seriously, they make it an official public health issue.) And these are children we’re talking about; just by living in overcrowded accommodation they’re having their life chances buggered.
Solving the problem won’t be easy. There’s little financial incentive for developers to build larger homes (according to the London Assembly report Crowded Houses, in Outer London it costs around £230k to build a two bedroom property and £315k to build a four bedroom, but the rents don’t rise at a similar level), and even where larger homes are available some families are already volunteering to stay put because the new benefit cap means they can’t afford the higher rent. And we end up back at the point we always do when talking about housing: London rents and prices are far too high for people on low (and medium) incomes, so we end up with families crammed into too small a space and benefits trying to make up the difference.