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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007, 09:57 GMT
Overcrowded Britain
Karl Mercer
The Politics Show

Bluebird
Housing standard introduced at time of Malcolm Campbell

It was the year that Billie Holiday started to make it big with her unique style of blues and Sir Malcolm Campbell was racing his Bluebird to a new land speed record.

However, 1935 was also the year when experts drew up guidance on what it would mean to be living in an overcrowded home.

Statutory Standard

Meant as a temporary measure that 'Statutory Standard' is still in force today.

It allows for living rooms and even kitchens to be used for sleeping in, and means that a couple living in a one bedroom flat with two teenage children of different sexes would not be classed as overcrowded.

Housing charities have long campaigned to change the standard, and last summer the government began a consultation, acknowledging "it is time to raise our game."

For Melanie Pither, who shares a small two bedroom council house with her husband Steve and three children, change can't come quickly enough.

Melanie's 12-year-old son, Sam and eight-year-old daughter, Kerri-Ann share a box room.

Their two-year-old son Owen, who has cerebral palsy, shares a small corner of his parents' room.

Trapped in cage?

She says it is like "being in a cage that you can't get out of.

You have days when it's not too bad and then other days when everyone's around, the kids are fighting and you're trying to get on and just everything's happening.

You feel like you're drowning because there are bodies everywhere and you can't get away. Sometimes all you want to do is just sit by yourself for five minutes, and you can't because there is nowhere to go.

You can't even go up to your bedroom because you share your bedroom with your little boy.

I sometimes think if it's like that for me and for Steven, it must be a thousand times worse for the kids."

Row of houses
Many houses are too small for the needs of a family

Bedroom Standard

Changing the overcrowding standard would throw up another problem though.

The old regulations label 20,000 households across the country are labelled as overcrowded, but the new definition, known as the 'Bedroom Standard', which makes allowance for the age and sex of people living in a house, would see that number rocket to half a million.

They would all then be considered as a priority for re-housing.

Housing charity Shelter estimates it could cost up to 6bn to deal with this problem.

They are calling for the government to find a minimum of 1.25bn in the forthcoming spending round "just to stop the situation getting any worse."

One of the biggest problems facing overcrowded families is that there simply aren't enough big houses being built.

More than half of new homes have just one or two bedrooms whereas twenty years ago just one in twelve were that small.

Larger homes?

The Conservatives want developers to be more conscious of the need to build for bigger families.

Meanwhile Housing Minister Yvette Cooper has acknowledged the problem but argues that building half a million new homes is not going to be a sensible solution.

She argues that the immediate priority must be making more of the current housing stock, with changes like loft extensions and moving families into larger homes to free their house up for someone else on the waiting list.

The government's review of the overcrowding standard is expected to report back in the coming months.

Join Jon Sopel and guests each Sunday at 12:00 GMT on BBC One... and of course on this website.



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