Sunday, 07 February 2016

Number 10 rejects overcrowding petition

The government has rejected calls to update the definition of overcrowding despite strong support for a petition on the Number 10 website.

More than 2,500 people signed the online petition set up by housing charity Shelter, which closed on 29 March, calling for a new standard to ‘reflect modern expectations of space and privacy’.

The government has now responded to the petition, saying it is ‘committed to tackling overcrowding’ but must ‘ensure that we have the right processes in place to support overcrowded households’ before making any changes to statutory standards.

The legal definition of overcrowding in England has remained unchanged since 1935, and counts children under 10 as half a person, and living rooms and large kitchens as acceptable places to sleep.

The Housing Act 2004 set out powers to update the statutory definition of overcrowding, but these have not yet been implemented.

Communities and Local Government department figures published last month showed there were 654,000 overcrowded households in England in 2008/09, which Shelter says is the highest level for over 14 years.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the charity, said: ‘Overcrowding is a huge blight on children’s lives, with devastating consequences for their health, education and future chances.

‘It is simply unacceptable for this antiquated standard to remain in place, allowing kitchens and living rooms to be considered as acceptable places for children to sleep.’

The government’s response to the petition says it is funding 54 pathfinder areas to develop ways of reducing overcrowding, through a £15 million programme.

‘Through this programe we are also building our evidence base which will help to establish the full cost, impact and timing of undertaking a phased and manageable move to a new statutory standard,‘ it adds.

It also says local authorities can develop their own definitions of overcrowding, which ‘are much more generous than the statutory standard’.

Conservative shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said: ‘These shocking overcrowding stats are indicative of this government’s utter failure to build the homes the country needs.’

Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Sarah Teather said: ‘Labour’s betrayal of the hundreds of thousands of families stuck in cramped conditions is frankly unforgivable.

‘Overcrowding means children unable to do their homework, and families falling apart due to the stress of living on top of each other.’

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