Poor housing and reliance on benefits doesn’t only affect the poorest families in England. Increasingly, there simply aren’t enough adequately paid jobs and affordable homes for England’s families, meaning that even where one or both parents work, a family might not be able to afford their rent without a supplement from the state. With rents constantly rising, families on a low income are in a very insecure position.

Councils themselves, having lost a lot of their housing through right-to-buy schemes and pressure to sell assets to compensate for shrinking budgets, no longer own a safety net of decent, affordable housing to help struggling local residents, and urban councils are often obliged to move high priority families outside their area, to wherever land is less valuable and housing cheaper. Analysis by the Local Government Association found that 12,246 council homes were sold to tenants under right-to-buy in England in 2015-16 but only 2,055 replacement homes were begun, 27% fewer than the previous year. The LGA is very clear about the growing shortage of houses and the need to build ‘genuinely affordable homes’ for current and future generations.

Many families are left in the precariousness of the private rented sector, where rents can be raised without argument and tenancies can be terminated without warning. Without regulation to ensure private landlords provide safe, secure and sustainable homes for their tenants, the growing number of families in the private rented sector will be financially and physically vulnerable. For a family made suddenly homeless and dependent on the local council, the short-term option – for many more weeks than a child should ever experience – might be a single room in a hostel or bed and breakfast. It’s a vicious and unsustainable cycle.

In 2013, 3.6 million children were living in bad housing, and with building of affordable homes lagging far behind what is needed, this is only increasing. These children will find it difficult to do some of the things their friends take for granted – find a quiet corner to finish homework, get a good night’s sleep, or invite a friend over to play.

The state benefits that thousands of families rely on to pay the rent, feed and clothe their children and enjoy some measure of protection from low-paid and insecure employment are being streamlined into one payment called Universal Credit. This has recently been capped at £23,000 outside London and £26,000 inside London, and for children born from April 2017 onwards, parents will only be entitled to benefits for the first two. Current benefits policy is designed to encourage parents to find work, and work more – but fails to recognise that in most struggling families, at least one parent is working as much as they can already, and is facing low wages, high childcare costs and high housing costs that are simply beyond their control.

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