Children forced to sleep on the floor or on soiled and mouldy bedding due to poverty

Katy Morton
Monday, October 9, 2023

More than one in 20 children are sleeping on the floor because they don’t have a bed of their own, according to findings from a survey by children’s charity Barnardo’s.

The survey by Barnardo's reveals the scale of 'bed poverty', PHOTO: Barnardo's
The survey by Barnardo's reveals the scale of 'bed poverty', PHOTO: Barnardo's

The survey of 1,048 parents with children under the age of 18, also found that around one in ten children (9 per cent) have had to share a bed with another member of their family.

Scaling up the findings, Barnardo’s believe there could be around 700,000 children sharing beds and 440,000 children sleeping on the floor because they don’t have a bed of their own.

The survey reveals one in 12 parents (8 per cent) said their children were ‘tired all of the time’ due to not having their own bed.

The charity also surveyed 100 of its frontline staff who had provided beds or bedding to children, young people and families struggling to afford the basics. They provided examples of families unable to afford to replace or repair broken beds, sharing beds, sleeping on the floor or a sofa and using broken or dirty mattresses.

They heard from families using ‘inadequate’ bedding that didn’t provide enough warmth in freezing temperatures, such as sheets or bedding which was dirty, mouldy or soiled, including cots.

Barnardo’s frontline workers say they remain ‘extremely concerned' about the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on struggling families and children, illustrated by the issue of ‘bed poverty.’

Between October 2022 and September 2023, the charity's crisis support has helped 7,200 families, including helping them to buy beds, mattresses, duvets, blankets and sheets.  

One Barnardo’s worker said, ‘I often see families sharing mattresses on the floor with no sheets on or badly soiled duvets. These items come very low on the list of items to purchase when families are struggling to make ends meet, especially since the rise in food bills and heating bills. On some occasions children and mum are all sleeping in one bed.’ 

The charity is making the following recommendations to Government: 

  • End the two-child limit on benefits for families with over two children. It says the policy effectively operates as a ‘sibling penalty’, affecting families entitled to benefits who have had a new baby since 2017.
  • To implement an Essentials Guarantee that would ensure that, at a minimum, Universal Credit protects people from going without essential items. This would enable families that are struggling to better accommodate unexpected costs, like replacing broken beds or bedding. 
  • To fix the Household Support Fund so families in crisis can get help with essentials like beds and bedding for their children when they are in most need. Funding for the Household Support Fund will run out in March 2024. The Government should announce in the Autumn Statement an extension of the Fund so the scheme does not end in March 2024. 

'Families in crisis are having to prioritise essentials over things like replacing mouldy bedding.'

Lynn Perry, Barnardo’s chief executive, said, ‘It is unacceptable that at least one child in every classroom is sleeping in the floor because they don’t have a bed of their own, in one of the richest countries in the world. 

‘Bed poverty is just one aspect of child poverty, yet it starkly illustrates the challenges faced by families not having enough money to afford the essentials needed to raise happy and healthy children.  

‘Families in crisis are having to prioritise essentials such as food, heating and electricity over things like replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a rotten or broken bed. Children are sharing beds and sleeping on the floor, all of which is affecting their development, attendance at school and their mental health.   

‘The Government must take urgent action to address these deep-rooted issues.’

 A Government spokesperson said, ‘We know people are struggling with rising prices, which is why we are providing record financial support worth around £3,300 per household and driving down inflation to make everyone’s money go further.

‘On top of this we are supporting families with food, clothing and other essential costs like beds through the household support fund and have raised benefits and pensions by over 10 cent.’

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