I've been campaigning for many months now to raise the profile of the problem of overcrowding in Reading. As far as I'm concerned this is one of the most serious issues many families in our Town face and it is causing huge damage to the lives of children, young people and families.
We know that there are around 5,000 people currently waiting to move into social housing in Reading but we don't really know exactly how many families are living in overcrowded accomodation.
As Chair of the Housing Scrutiny Panel in Reading I have asked officers to produce a report for our March meeting on the problem of overcrowding in Reading. This is the first time such a report has been produced as far as I know - or at least the first that has been produced since I joined the Council in 2006.
The report will also investigate the sensitive issue of 'under-occupancy' as there are some RBC properties in Reading which are technically under-occupied.
Why does overcrowding matter? Because it ruins the health and quality of life of families. Over on my ward blog I have described some real examples of local people who are being badly effected who I came across as a ward councillor. Having witnessed real suffering in my own ward, I am now very motivated to get this issue on the political agenda and action taken.
There are potentially thousands of families in this position in Reading right now.
Earlier this year I supported Shelter's campaign to reform the outdated housing laws which relate to the definition of overcrowding. The legal framework matters because it is this which dictates the policies of councils like Reading.
I'm grateful to Shelter for highlighting some facts about the current law around overcrowding:
- It hasn’t been updated since 1935. Back then they thought that smoking was healthy, too.
- Living rooms and kitchens are considered acceptable sleeping spaces.
- Children under 10 count as half a person, and babies under one don’t count at all.
- According to the law, a family of five** living in a one-bedroom flat would not be classed as living in overcrowded accommodation.
- Shelter research has shown that overcrowding causes anxiety and depression, limits educational success and harms health
In Reading, like a lot of other places, overcrowding is linked to a shortage of larger or 'family-sized' accommodation. I have been leading the campaign locally for more houses like these - more affordable homes, more Council houses and more empty homes to be transformed into cheap housing for local families.
I hope that by finding out the extent of the problem and gaining a better understanding about the challenges many people are dealing with we can go some way towards alleviating the problems many families are facing in Reading today.