Double the number of children in poor housing

TWICE as many children are living in poor housing conditions than before the economic boom with dampness, disrepair and overcrowding part of their daily lives.

Their accommodation makes them more prone to asthma, diarrhoea, infections and headaches, and the psychological stress leaves them vulnerable to developing behavioural problems and difficulties at school.

A study of housing and its impact on children found just under 50,000 children were assessed by local authorities as living in unsatisfactory conditions and in need of rehousing in 2002, compared with just under 25,000 in 1991.

The study also found as many as 243,600 children in 94,000 households, or a quarter of all children in the State, live in either public or private housing affected by at least one problem from a list that included dampness, cold, noise and structural defects among others.

Children of one-parent families are most at risk with the likelihood of them being on a housing waiting list ten times greater than if they were part of a two-parent family. Children of two-parent families also suffered, however, with the number of households with affordability problems defined as households where rent accounts for at least one-third of income more than doubling since before the boom.

The study was carried out by housing and social policy consultant Simon Brooke for the Children's Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin and the Irish Youth Foundation. Mr Brooke summed up the conclusions of his research as: "Bad housing is bad for children."

He said local authorities were under pressure to supply more houses without having sufficient funding to maintain and repair their existing housing stock, and that minimum standards for conditions in private rented housing were too low and not sufficiently enforced.

"Children deserve to have a decent start in life by living in housing that is good for them rather than housing that may perpetuate their disadvantage. With our current prosperity this is achievable. Now is the time to do it," he said.

His findings were backed by economist, Professor PJ Drudy, who said the housing system was driven by market forces rather than social concerns with the result that the supply of social housing had slumped dramatically over the past 50 years.

He said the new Residential Tenancies Act would not solve problems in the private rented sector because it did not tackle the issue of rent control. "It might improve standards but standards are minimal and appalling and it might improve security a bit but it says rents should not be above market level which I find an extraordinary statement given that the market sets the rents."

Prof Drudy warned that children of parents who were owner-occupiers also suffered in the current housing crisis because many parents were struggling with massive mortgages while others were commuting long distances and leaving their children in creches for most of the day.

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