Overcrowding briefing

There are many types of housing need. While attention is understandably often focused on the most extreme forms – including homelessness and, in particular, rough sleeping – there are others, such as overcrowding. These are much less visible and yet impact on a greater number of families and people.

22 August 2019

The most commonly used measure of overcrowding is the bedroom standard, developed by the Government Social Survey for use in the 1960 housing survey. Under the standard, homes are said to be ‘overcrowded’ if a child has to share their bedroom with two or more other children, sleep in the same room as their parents, or share with a teenager of the opposite sex.

In this paper we examine the scale of overcrowding as it is measured in the latest English Housing Survey, as well as the impacts on families and children of that overcrowding, using a survey carried out by ComRes.

The research reveals that more than one in ten children in England are living in overcrowded homes. This comes to a total of around 1.3m children from more than 600,000 families, who are stuck in overcrowded conditions because there is nowhere else for them to live. Overcrowding in England has now reached record levels, as around 96,000 more children are living in overcrowded homes compared to a decade ago.

The report includes a poll, carried out by ComRes for the National Housing Federation, showing the terrible living conditions overcrowded families often experience:

  • Just under half of children in overcrowded homes are forced to share a bedroom with their parents – this could affect as many as 627,000 children.
  • In more than a quarter of overcrowded homes, children even have to share a bed with a parent or sibling – this could affect as many as 368,000 children.
  • More than a quarter of parents in overcrowded homes are often forced to sleep in kitchens, bathrooms or hallways because of the lack of space – this could affect as many as 380,000 people.
  • More than half of parents in overcrowded homes worry that their children aren’t coming home because of how overcrowded it is – this could affect as many as 695,000 children.
  • Around half of children in overcrowded homes struggle to do their homework because of the lack of space – this could affect as many as 750,000 children. This includes 14% (as many as 190,000 children) who find it totally impossible.

The main cause of overcrowding is the stark lack of housing in England, especially social housing, which means growing families have nowhere affordable to move to. The country needs around 145,000 new social homes every year, including 90,000 for social rent. Last year only 6,000 social-rented homes were built, as a result of sharp Government cuts to funding for new social housing in 2010.

We are calling on the Government to invest £12.8bn every year for the next decade in building new social homes, bringing spending levels back to those last seen under Churchill’s government in the early 1950s. This would effectively end the housing crisis, kick starting a nationwide housebuilding boom of around 145,000 new social homes to rent and shared ownership properties to buy every year.

Photography by Cinzia D'Ambrosi.

Download the briefing (opens as a PDF).