Overcrowding: the story behind the statistics

19th Nov 2012

A new film highlights the reality of living in damp, cramped conditions every day, never knowing if your circumstances will change.

When you watch a film like this it’s really easy to forget the history of social housing as a step up in housing conditions from the slums of the time. 

Only 3 per cent of households in England live in overcrowded conditions. York is quite close to that overall rate with 2.1 per cent of households overcrowded, putting it joint fifth in the English regions. 

What’s important about this film is that it shows how those relatively small statistics are completely dwarfed by the reality of what it’s actually like to struggle with damp and cramped conditions every day, never knowing when or if your circumstances will change. 

That feeling of being trapped with no obvious way out is easy to relate to when you hear how the family’s home moved seamlessly from a temporary to a permanent housing solution. 

There has been major Government investment in the quality of housing, especially social housing, to bring it up to decent standards. With 29 per cent of households in poverty in England still living in a home that fails to meet adequate housing standards, this film shows the importance of continuing that work. 

Watching this film a second time, Kia and Simon’s hopeful resilience while waiting to see where they are in the housing queue each week is especially hard to bear. With 4 per cent of households in England having someone on a housing waiting or transfer list, moving to better housing conditions isn’t necessarily quick or easy to achieve. That’s especially true when you don’t have the money for private rental deposits or on-going rent shortfalls. 

Many people reading this will now be thinking about the #propertyscandal of all those empty homes. Of the 940,000 empty homes in England, around 17 per cent are social housing. In 2010 over a third of these empty homes were flats. Empty homes are also more likely to be below a decent standard. 

Tackling empty homes has got to be a part of the solution. But these statistics are there to remind us that bringing all those empty homes back into use won’t solve the housing crisis on their own. 

Neither will a ‘bedroom tax’ that docks the housing benefit of social tenants with more bedrooms than they need from April 2013. The simple fact of the matter is that we’re building less than half the homes we need to meet household formation. 

The film brought to mind an old evaluation of social housing initiatives on under occupation, which found that:

 “a combination of positive inducements and the personal approach was the most effective for encouraging moves. Specialist staff who engage with tenants on a one to one basis, discussing their requirements in detail, explaining what help and properties are available can be particularly effective at facilitating moves.”

What that quote and this film really underline for me is the importance of acknowledging people’s stories. 

The sad death of Telan in her cot only four weeks after filming demonstrates Kia and Simon’s resilience in allowing this film to be shown. Call me naïve but it also highlights for me how we might get further on campaigns to build new homes and address under occupation if we made sure that stories like these were heard.