Memorandum submitted by Shelter (CP 21)
Shelter is a national campaigning charity that
works with over 100,000 homeless or badly housed people every
year. We offer practical support and innovative services to people
in housing need and use the evidence gathered from this work to
campaign for long-term changes to legislation, policy and practice
to reduce and prevent homelessness.
Last year, our housing services helped over
20,000 families with children. Through these services, we work
with some of the poorest and most excluded children in our society.
We have also been working closely with End Child Poverty and,
in December 2002, we jointly published Child poverty, housing
and homelessness to highlight the links between poor housing
and child poverty.
Shelter welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence
to this inquiry. We fully support the Government's commitment
to end child poverty. However, we do not believe it can be met
until the housing needs of families with children are tackled.
Our evidence therefore focuses on the links between poor housing
and poverty and the policies needed to ensure that tackling homelessness
and bad housing is central to the drive to end child poverty.
Measuring child poverty
Shelter agrees that income should underpin the
measurement of child poverty. However, as the Government has recognised,
poverty is multi-faceted. As one of the key underlying components
of poverty, a housing indicator should therefore be included within
the overall measure of child poverty.
Shelter believes that the current housing indicator
used in the Opportunity for all report does not accurately
measure the housing dimension of child poverty. The indicator
is based on the Government's PSA target to ensure that all social
housing is brought up to a decent standard by 2010.
However, it omits large numbers of children living in some of
the worst housing conditionsit does not include homeless
children, children living in overcrowded accommodation or children
living in poor conditions in private sector housing (57% of households
below 60% of median income
are living in the private sector).
Shelter therefore believes that the Government
should introduce a new "housing poverty index" that
more accurately reflects the nature and extent of housing poverty.
This should include:
Homeless households with children
living in temporary accommodation.
Households with children who are
Households with children living in
Such an index would be consistent with the criteria
set out in the Government's consultation paper Measuring child
It would be unambiguous, outcome-focused and, we believe, well
understood and accepted by the public. As set out below, it would
also be relatively simple to develop.
The number of homeless households living in
temporary accommodation is considered to be a robust and credible
indicator of housing need and is currently part of the Housing
Needs Indices and General Needs Indices used to allocate housing
resources. Statistics are collected by the ODPM on a quarterly
basis and have, since April 2002, identified the numbers of families
with children. The ODPM are currently consulting on proposals
to record the actual numbers of children in those households.
The English House Conditions Survey, which is
now conducted on an annual basis, already includes a measure of
overcrowding (in both the social and private sectors) based on
the "bedroom standard" a far more realistic and modern
indicator of overcrowding than the current statutory definition
which dates back to 1935.
The English House Conditions Survey also records
the number of households with children living in poor housing
(again this covers both the social and private sector). However,
the definition currently used is very broadit will not
be the case that all the households identified will be suffering
as a result. Further work should therefore be done to define where
conditions are impacting adversely on children and to link this
with the current target of bringing social housing up to standard.
The index should be one of the additional indicators
used alongside the main income measure to track child poverty.
By combining poor conditions with overcrowding and homelessness,
the index would capture the different aspects of housing poverty
in areas of high and low demand for housing.
More broadly, we agree with End Child Poverty
that progress in tackling child poverty should be independently
The extent of child poverty
It has long been understood that poor housing
and poverty are closely linked. A family's housing circumstances
often provide the most immediate indication of their poverty and
there can be few clearer and more shocking manifestations of poverty
than homelessness. Government figures show that:
Record numbers of more than 93,000
homeless households are currently living in temporary accommodation.
More than 100,000 children currently
become homeless each year.
Over 300,000 families with children
live in overcrowded housing.
More than 900,000 families with children
live in poor housing.
These statistics highlight the pressing need
to bring housing into the heart of the child poverty agenda.
The impact of child poverty
Poor housing is not just a manifestation and
indicator of poverty in itself. It also impacts on other aspects
of children's lives and is closely linked to other key indicators
of poverty. The effects of homelessness and bad housing on the
health and well being of children are well documented, with infectious
respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases common.
People in poor housing are more susceptable to tubercolosis.
Homelessness increases the risk of low birth weight
and homeless children are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital.
Mood swings, bed wetting and disturbed sleep are also common.
Education can also suffer. Overcrowded conditions
make homework and reading more difficult.
Impaired language and speech skills
and lower attainment are common.
One study in Birmingham found that only 29% of homeless children
were attending mainstream school whereas 73% had been attending
prior to becoming homeless.A
Shelter study in Bristol found that, of those families forced
to change their children's schooling after they became homeless,
more than half said that at least one of their children had been
Poverty impacts disproportionately on people
from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups. The Social Exclusion
Unit found that people from minority ethnic communities are more
likely to be poor, unemployed and suffering from ill health.
They are also four times more likely to live in one of the 44
most deprived areas of the country.
People from BME communities are also much more
likely to live in poor housing. They are nearly three times more
likely to be homelesswhere nationally, they make up approximately
8% of the population, they account for more than 20% of homeless
acceptances. They are also four times more likely to live in poor
housing conditions12% live in overcrowded accommodation
compared to 2% of white households
(30% of Bangladeshi and 22% of Pakistani households live in overcrowded
The Government's strategy
Shelter supports the Government's commitment
to tackling child poverty and welcomes the progress made so far.
However, we share End Child Poverty's view that a strategy should
be published to map out how the Government intends to meet its
child poverty pledge. We also believe that more sensitive policies
are needed to target those in the most severe poverty, an issue
highlighted in a recent report published by Save the Children.
Many of those living in the severest poverty are also likely to
be living in the worst housing conditions and we are concerned
that housing policies and resources are not currently being targeted
at tackling the most acute need.
A brief summary of some of the policies that
should be included within the overall strategy in order to tackle
the housing aspects of child poverty as set out below.
Housing and poor housing
The Government has taken a number of very welcome
steps to tackle homelessness. This has included setting a target
to end the use of bed and breakfast for families with children
by March 2004. A recent consultation paper proposed outlawing
its use altogether for families with children.
These are very positive developments. However, the number of homeless
households in other forms of temporary accommodationlargely
a result of the severe shortage of affordable housing across much
of southern Englandcontinues to increase and has now reached
In July 2001, the then junior Housing Minister
announced a review of the overcrowding standards. More than two
years later, that commitment remains outstanding. The Government
should implement the ODPM Select Committee's recommendation that
the current standards should be updated in the forthcoming Housing
More broadly, particularly given its disproportionate impact on
BME communities, overcrowding should be given more priority within
housing policy and the allocation of resources.
Shelter welcomes the continuing progress being
made against the target to bring social Housing up to standard.
We also welcome the measures included in the draft housing Bill
to improve standards in the worst properties in the private rented
sector. However, as the report of a commission established by
Shelter and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation identified,
more needs to be done to raise standards across the sector as
More generally, there remains a chronic shortfall
in the supply of affordable housing. Although the new resources
identified in the Communities Plan are very welcome, they are
unlikely to deliver more than half to two-thirds of the 90,000
new affordable homes we estimate are needed every year. We are
also concerned at the extent to which the new resources are being
targeted on "key" workersthis should not be at
the expense of those most in need.
The Government has introduced a number of very
welcome reforms to the welfare system to boost the income of families
in poverty. For many families on low incomes, housing costs are
the largest part of their expenditure. Housing Benefit therefore
has a key role to play in supporting the Government's objectives
in this area. However, the interaction of the housing benefit
system with other benefits and tax credits currently undermines
efforts to tackle child poverty. Recent research commissioned
by the DWP on child benefit packages in 22 countries found that
the relative merit of the UK package was eroded once housing costs
were taken into account.
There are four main aspects of the Housing Benefit
system that undermine the effectiveness of other benefits and
tax credits in reducing child poverty:
Work-related benefits, including
Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit, are taken into account in
assessing income for the purposes of calculating Housing Benefit
entitlementthis creates a major poverty trap;
The steepness of the Housing Benefit
taper also creates a poverty trapevery pound a person on
a low income earns over and above the "applicable amount"
results in a 65p decrease in their Housing Benefit (and a further
20p decrease in their council tax benefit);
Rent restrictions mean that Housing
Benefit often fails to cover the full rent for families in the
private rented sectorthe average "shortfall"
for households renting privately is £19 a week
(in 2001, just under a quarter of households renting privately
were couples with children or lone parents with children);
Although performance has improved,
the complexity and poor administration of Housing Benefit continues
to penalise many claimants.
In addition, although they comprise just under
half of those in the bottom two-fifths of income distribution,
low income owner occupiers receive very little support with their
housing costs (around a quarter of owner-occupiers are couples
with children and 3% are lone parents with children.
Income Support for Mortgage Interest (ISMI) is not payable until
nine months after employment is lost (for those who took out their
mortgage after 1995) and there is evidence that the poorest owners
are the least likely to take up private insurance. We hope the
Government's Home Ownership Task Force will make positive recommendations
in this area.
Many of these issues were taken up in the Social
Security Select Committee's report into Housing Benefit in 2000
and have not been acted on by the Government. Further reforms
that we believe should be prioritised with the Government's child
poverty objectives in mind include:
Ensuring that arrangements to increase
the number of private tenants being paid Housing Benefit directly
do not lead to increased rent arrears, poverty and homelessness;
Disregarding part or all of Child
Benefit and the Child Tax Credit in assessing income for the purposes
of Housing Benefit;
Improving the relationship between
the Housing Benefit and Working Families Tax Credit tapers;
Amending the Housing Benefit regulations
to enable households to claim Housing Benefit on two properties
for four weeks where they temporarily have two rental liabilities
(a problem that can particularly affect households moving from
temporary to permanent accommodation );
Strengthening the mortgage safety
net by ending the nine month delay in the payment of ISMI and
revising the "standardised" rate at which interest is
Considering the option of a housing
tax credit for both tenants and owners to provide a more integrated
and transparent system on in-work benefits.
The commitment to tackle child poverty is and
should be a major strategic priority for the Government. Delivering
on it should underpin the work of departments across Whitehallpolicies
should be "proofed" against child poverty objectives
and should not be implemented if they undermine efforts to tackle
There is evidence that some departments have
placed child poverty objectives at the heart of their agendas.
However, departments too often pursue their own policy objectives
in ways that undermine the collective priority of tackling child
poverty. Policies on anti-social behaviour, for example, risk
significantly increasing poverty. The Anti-Social Behaviour Bill
includes measures to "demote" the tenancies of people
in social housing who commit anti-social behaviour. This is likely
to lead to an increase in evictions, driving people further into
poverty. If implemented, the proposals recently consulted on to
withhold Housing Benefit from anti-social tenants will have a
More broadly, government structures and processes
tend to encourage departments to pursue their own objectives rather
than promoting a strategic focus on major cross-cutting priorities.
The experience of the Social Exclusion Unit shows how cross-cutting
issues can fall down the political and departmental agendas. A
new and more imaginative approach to policy-making is needed to
overcome these problems if the commitment to tackling child proverty
is to be met in the long term.
Mr Patrick South
Public Affairs Manager
12 September 2003
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