Social Justice

Children forced to sleep on floors as parents skip meals due to cost of living – something has to give

The government is set to strip back "lifeline" financial support which could make it even harder for families to get beds and bedding if they can't afford them. Thousands of families are already being turned away

children

Around 10,000 families were turned down when they requested help in 2022/2023. Image: Unsplash

Kelly’s little boy had to sleep on a mattress on the floor because she could not afford to buy him a new bed. He climbed in alongside her when he couldn’t sleep but she was breastfeeding her baby, and her other son wanted to join them too, so they all had a disturbed night. Exhaustion followed.

“I would sleep on the sofa just so the boys could get that little bit of extra sleep and bring the baby next to me in the living room. Sleeping on the sofa wasn’t good for my back,” Kelly says, “but if it meant everyone getting a bit of extra sleep, then so be it.”

Kelly and her three children, aged six, four and 15 months, live together in a one-bedroom flat in Birmingham. She is a single mum and used to be a care worker for the elderly and worked in supermarkets, but she was forced to give up work when her health deteriorated.

She had 13 miscarriages and one of her babies was stillborn before she had three caesareans with her children, which has taken a toll on her body. She suffers with back and hip pain and her mobility has worsened as has her mental health. She is relying on disability benefits and food parcels to survive.

“I make sacrifices all the time,” Kelly, 34, says. “I probably only eat every two days so my children can be fed. My children come first.”

Kelly is far from alone in going without essentials. Research from children’s charity Barnardo’s has found that families in crisis are having to prioritise basics like food, heating and electricity over replacing mouldy bedding or fixing a broken bed.

It is getting worse in the cost of living crisis. The number of families who have asked their local council for help with beds and bedding has more than quadrupled in the last five years, according to new analysis. 

In 2018/2019 there were 4,316 requests for beds and bedding for children, with 2,294 successful (53%).  By 2022/23 this had risen to 17,534 applications, of which only 7,227 got support (41%).

It means more than 10,000 families who asked for help providing beds and bedding for their children were turned down.

Kelly did receive help, and she speaks with overwhelming emotion about how grateful she is that her children’s school connected her to scheme which provides beds and bedding. They received a bunk bed, single bed, along with bedding and pyjamas.



“I got all emotional,” Kelly says. “There’s no way I would have been able to afford that. Being a single mom of three kids, money’s really tight. They came with the mattresses, quilts, pillows, pyjamas… I was really overwhelmed. And honestly, I’m so grateful.”

This scheme was paid for by the household support fund, given to councils to help people cover the costs of essentials, which is currently set to end in March 2024.

As The Big Issue has reported, charities, councils and MPs believe it would be a “devastating” loss. It would mean families like Kelly’s would not get the support like this, which they so desperately need as the cost of living crisis continues to hit households.

“That would be a real shame,” Kelly says, “especially as there’s lots of parents that won’t speak up and say that they are struggling.”

Recent research by End Furniture Poverty found that the household support fund provided 62% of all local welfare assistance in 2022. 

Lynn Perry, the chief executive of Barnardo’s, said:  “Even with the household support fund in place, councils are struggling to keep up with demand. That fund is due to end in two months’ time – if it does, it will leave a huge hole in the ability of councils to provide help – including providing beds or bedding for children who deserve a decent night’s sleep. Time is running out.”

On average, local authorities received 180 crisis requests for help with children’s beds and bedding in 2018 to 2019. By 2022 to 2023 this had risen to 450 requests, an increase of 270. 

Barnardo’s has written to the chancellor this week alongside representatives from more than 120 other organisations including the Children’s Society, the Trussell Trust, Citizens Advice and StepChange Debt Charity calling for an urgent extension to the fund. The charities warn of the “devastating consequences” for families facing hardship if the fund is not extended. 

Perry added: “Bed poverty is just one aspect of child poverty, yet it starkly illustrates the challenges faced by families who can’t afford the essentials because they are struggling to pay their bills or feed their children.

“We’re urgently calling for a commitment to increase and extend the household support fund before it ends in March, as well as a long-term strategy for local crisis support in England, to help alleviate the pressure on families.”

In spite of all that she has been through, Kelly is overwhelmingly grateful. She has a helpful support worker, the kids’ school has been supportive, and she is thankful to have disability benefits keeping her afloat.

Cost of living payments have also “helped massively” – but like the household support fund, that lifeline is set to end imminently.

Kelly is keen to speak out to encourage others to ask for help if they need it. There is so much stigma around poverty and it took her a long time – and encouragement from her support worker – to admit she needed support.

“I accept the help nowadays,” she says. “I don’t suffer in silence.”

But with financial support about to be stripped back, and many families already being turned away, that help might not be available when people have gathered up the courage to ask for it.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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