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Hundreds of thousands of children suffer bed poverty, says Barnardo’s

29 September 2023


CHILDREN are sleeping on the floor or sharing mouldy or soiled beds, because families cannot afford to replace broken beds and mattresses or provide adequate bedding to counter cold and damp, new research has found.

The children’s charity Barnardo’s, which describes the situation as “bed poverty”, commissioned a YouGov survey, conducted in August, of 1049 parents with children under 18 and 1013 children (aged 8-17) in Great Britain.

The findings were published on Thursday in the charity’s report, No crib for a bed: The impact of the cost of living crisis on bed poverty, in which frontline staff give countless examples of families having to prioritise essentials such as food, heating, and electricity over replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a rotten bed.

As many as 700,000 children could be sharing beds and as many as 440,000 sleeping on the floor, the report estimates, which is harming children’s development, attendance at school, and mental health.

The report estimates that 187,000 families in the UK have been unable to change their children’s bedding in the past 12 months because they cannot afford to wash and dry it; more than 336,000 families have not been able to afford to replace or repair their child’s broken bed; 204,000 families have seen their children’s bed or bedding getting mouldy or damp; and 281,000 families have had to choose between paying for heating or food and getting a new bed or bedding.

“Bed poverty is just one aspect of child poverty, yet it starkly illustrates the challenges faced by families’ not having enough money to afford the essentials needed to raise happy and healthy children,” the chief executive of Barnardo’s, Lynn Perry, said on Thursday. “The Government must take urgent action to address these deep rooted issues.”

One mother of three sons — aged six months, six, and three years old — is quoted in the report. “We can only afford a food budget of £50 a month, and as the boys are sleeping on the floor, it’s really hard for them to get to sleep,” she said.

“I have to keep the heating on in the evening to try and make it more comfortable for them, and then I wake up early to turn it on again before they wake up. We have sleepless nights worrying about the situation and what will happen.”

Of the children surveyed, 11 per cent reported having to share a bed or sleep on the floor in the past year — the equivalent of 894,000 children in the UK. When asked how they felt about sharing a bed with someone else, 20 per cent of children said that they felt tired the next day, during school lessons, and 13 per cent during sports. Another 11 per cent said that they were embarrassed by the sleeping arrangements, eight per cent said that they were anxious, ten per cent said that they were unhappy, and 14 per cent, moody.

Support staff at Barnardo’s have been securing mattresses, bedding, and cots, as well as providing beds for parents or carers who have nowhere to sleep in their own home. They report that many families are living in inappropriate properties, leading to significant overcrowding — here, the provision of bunk beds and triple bunk beds has helped to make use of small spaces. They have also found many instances of poor ventilation and a lack of heating.

The affect of poor sleeping arrangements on children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is included in the report. “Some have continence issues and this means they need replacement bedding more often. . . The costs for beds and bedding can be considerably more than for non-disabled children and families,” one family worker said.

Another family worker said that parents knew that the minimum was to provide a warm bed for their children. “They’re fully aware, but they’re ashamed they can’t provide this.” Another recorded a visit three weeks before Christmas 2022 where the eldest daughter in the family was sleeping on a mattress with no cover sheet and a sleeping bag that did not zip.

The charity makes three recommendations to the Government: to end the two-child limit on social benefits; to implement an “Essentials Guarantee” which would ensure that the minimum Universal Credit payment protected people from going without essential items such as beds and bedding; and to fix the Household Support Fund, so that families in crisis receive help with essentials when they are most needed.

Funding for the Household Support Fund will run out in March. Without its renewal, local crisis support will be significantly affected, the charity says. It calls for an extension of the fund in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November.

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