We are all familiar with talk of children’s rights in education, or health care. Often, too, we hear about ‘Article 12’ and their right to participate in decisions affecting their lives. What doesn’t get a lot of attention are their rights to decent housing. Shelter’s new campaign for the Living Home Standard could help to change that.
Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the Government should ensure a standard of living for every child which allows them to develop fully - physically, mentally, spiritually, morally and socially. This calls for supporting families to ensure that children’s needs are met in a range of areas, including housing, but what does this mean?
Some answers emerge from NCB’s recent work on housing as it affects children – and from Shelter’s Living Home Standard, which has been drawn up following widespread consultation with members of the public.
The Living Home Standard sets out what we should all be able to expect from our homes, in order to secure our wellbeing. It focuses on five dimensions: affordability; space; stability; decent conditions; and neighbourhood. Each one is associated with attributes such as: ‘The home can be heated safely and effectively’, ‘The home is free from mould or damp problems’, and ‘The number of bedrooms is adequate for all members of the household’.
Shelter’s research found that 22% of families with children live in homes which fail to meet the Standard in relation to ‘decent conditions’, with 17% failing with regard to ‘space’. Even more shockingly, 38% of these families’ homes fail the ‘affordability’ test (based on criteria such as whether parents can meet rent payments without regularly cutting back on essentials like food or heating).
What does this mean for the children in these families?
NCB’s recent briefing sets out how the condition, location and stability of family homes has a wide-ranging impact on children’s early health and development. For example, those in overcrowded homes are at greater risk of unintentional injury and poor psychological health. Bed sharing is also a contributory factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Children in cold and/or damp homes are around twice as likely to suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis, while fuel poverty is linked with low weight gain in infants, slower developmental progress and more frequent hospital admissions. Changes to housing benefits and rising housing prices are making it even more likely that families with young children will struggle with the cost of accommodation – which in turn means they may end up in poorer quality housing.
Clearly, parents have a part to play in protecting children’s wellbeing at home. But our recent research with low income families (for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner) found that while families were keen to upgrade their housing, they simply could not afford to do so. Maintenance and repair requests made to landlords were not always addressed and some parents felt inhibited about raising problems, for fear of being evicted. We found that, of all the services accessed by families, housing was in need of the most urgent attention, in order to meet the needs of young children.
In its verdict on the UK’s children’s rights record, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called for stronger measures to reduce child homelessness and tackle poor quality housing. NCB is supporting Shelter’s Living Home Standard campaign, which we hope will help to build a consensus around the standard of housing children are entitled to. This must be guaranteed to them by Government, if it is to fulfil its responsibilities under Article 27.
Add your thoughts and support to the campaign by commenting and following Twitter hashtag: #LivingHomeStandard