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The Dynamics of Bad Housing on the Living Standards of Children – Evidence from the Families and Children Study (FACS)

National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)
Date: 2008


The UK government has made tackling poor housing a priority, particularly in the social housing sector and through criteria such as the Decent Homes Standard. At the same time, rising energy prices are believed to contribute to greater levels of fuel poverty, which affects low-income families, many of whom live in lower-quality properties. While a tacit link between inferior housing and negative outcomes for children has long been accepted, there remains a gap in knowledge about how this is manifested and what exactly the causal relationship is. The impact of substandard housing is rarely considered in strategies aimed at children and young people, and an understanding of its effects may be useful for coordinated cross-government action.

Key research Question

The study aimed to answer a series of questions including: How many children experience bad housing? How long do children experience bad housing for? Which children are most at risk of persistent bad housing? What are the associations between persistent bad housing and other outcomes for children? Finally, what are the implications for policy development?

Summary of activity

The main findings from the research are based on a secondary analysis of the national Families and Children Study (FACS), which is a longitudinal qualitative study that collected data from households on multiple topics such as health, economic status and housing over four years (2001–05). The original dataset includes both self-reported experiential data and a wide range of demographic information (e.g. age of children, ethnicity, housing tenure and work status of parents). Logistic regression was used on parts of the data to assess the effect of a number of variables in order to identify which factors have strong associative relationships.



Overall, the research indicates that a much greater proportion of children experienced substandard housing conditions at some point than was previously thought:

  • In 2005, 31% of the children surveyed experienced one of the following conditions: overcrowding (15%), a poor state of repair (11%) or inadequate heating (5%).
  • Over the period 2001–05, 13% of children persistently experienced overcrowding, 6% a poor state of repair and 4% inadequate heating.
  • Those children who persistently lived in substandard housing experienced worse outcomes across every thematic area of the Every Child Matters outcomes framework.
  • However, certain factors created a higher risk that a child would live persistently in overcrowded, poorly repaired or inadequately heated housing. These included families with four or more children, families where the mother was from a particular BAME group, and those in social housing (overcrowding); families residing in the most deprived neighbourhoods and/or in the private rented sector and families with low incomes and/or multiple debts (poor state of repair); and lone parent households, those with multiple debts and those in the private rented sector (inadequate heating).


Policy must focus on children who persistently live in bad housing. However, this must take account of the different aspects of substandard properties and how these change over time. For example, rising energy prices are likely to mean that more families experience inadequate heating.

Better coordination is needed. Policy on child welfare should include the impact of poor housing; by incorporating housing issues within major frameworks such as Every Child Matters, multiple policy goals across a range of areas (child poverty, decent housing, fuel poverty and child welfare) can be addressed simultaneously.

Future research must include longitudinal studies, not just ‘snapshots’ at a particular time, in order to capture the varied housing histories of families. This is particularly important when it comes to the instances when families transition into or out of bad housing. Research needs to investigate the dynamics behind such changes. Further studies should adopt more refined models that can take account of the relative effects of different aspects of poor conditions, the role of non-housing factors, and the interactions between them, but a greater concentration on disadvantaged families is recommended. Quantitative research must be balanced by qualitative studies in order to fully comprehend the experiences of families.

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