‘No crib for a bed’: 894,000 UK children share a bed or sleep on the floor

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By Ivy Mullen, Policy and Research Assistant at Barnardo’s

In December we set up an emergency fund at Barnardo’s to help families with the cost-of-living crisis. This was designed to help those struggling to afford essentials with things like food vouchers, winter clothing, or replacing furniture.

We were surprised by the number of our frontline workers who were asking for help with children’s beds and bedding; many highlighted how the families were having to prioritise essentials like food, heating and electricity over things like repairing a broken bed or replacing mouldy bedding. This prompted us to investigate further and in September 2023 we published a report looking at this.

In interviews with frontline workers, we heard how some families were struggling to afford beds and bedding. One worker recounted seeing times where ‘bedroom furniture was being held together with tape’. We also heard numerous examples of children having to either share beds or sleep on the floor. To understand the scale of this issue we commissioned polling with YouGov. We estimate there are 894,000 children in the UK who have had to share a bed or sleep on the floor because their families were unable to provide another bed.

The guilt that parents feel when they are unable to provide beds and bedding also came out in the report. One of our practitioners said:

These parents know the bare minimum is providing a warm bed – they’re fully aware but they’re ashamed they can’t provide this.

In the last 12 months, our polling with YouGov found that there were over 1 million families in the UK where parents had given up their own bed so their child had somewhere to sleep.

For the report we surveyed over 700 Barnardo’s practitioners. We found that around half of them (49%) are worried about how rising costs are affecting the ability of families they work with to afford beds and bedding. In many of the interviews we conducted we heard how families are having to prioritise paying for food, heating or cover rising housing costs above things like fixing a broken bed. One of our practitioners said: ‘feeding and keeping their children warm was more of a priority than having decent beds and bedding.’

Our research focussed on the negative impact of this on children’s wellbeing, particularly the impact on school life and mental health. Some of Barnardo’s attendance officers contributed to the report. They support children and families with getting young people to go to school and they highlighted how not being able to afford appropriate beds or bedding meant that for some children they were ‘just too tired, and it means they start falling behind in school’. Using our YouGov polling of children we estimate there are currently 73,000 children in the UK who feel ‘anxious’, 92,000 that feel ‘unhappy’, and 123,000 that feel ‘moody’ due to not having adequate beds to sleep in.

In our report we set out three key recommendations: ending the two-child limit, implementing an Essentials Guarantee in Universal Credit (as proposed by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust) and fixing local crisis support. This last recommendation is our key focus with the UK Government in the coming months.

In March, the Household Support Fund will come to an end, posing a huge challenge to local authorities in how they deliver help and support to people in financial crisis. Analysis by End Furniture Poverty found that 45% of funds for local crisis support comes from the Household Support Fund as opposed to core funding. We, alongside organisations like GMPA, are calling for the fund to be extended and a long-term solution for local crisis support.

To read more about our report, click here.

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i3oz9s‘No crib for a bed’: 894,000 UK children share a bed or sleep on the floor