Coalition acts on overcrowding in south London homes

An alliance of churches, schools and charities in a south London borough is calling for changes in local council housing policy following a major survey of the effects of overcrowding on children.

The citizens' report published tomorrow: 'Housing Our Future', is the result of months of interviews and surveys in Wandsworth primary schools by a "panel" of local community organisations and parishioners. It contains drawings made by children of their overcrowded accommodation and appeals for urgent action.

Unusually, the report puts the children's own experience at the heart of its evidence on overcrowding, arguing that they are the "alternative" experts on the issue.

The South London Citizens campaign, which began last year with a survey in a primary
school and an emotional DVD made to persuade Wandsworth council to listen, has led to a borough-wide enquiry.

The enquiry, overseen by four eminent Commissioners, gathered evidence from more than 300 people, including 140 children, in 125 Wandsworth households  earlier this year. It found that 70% of those surveyed were living in overcrowded conditions according to Wandsworth's previously published standards, and as  many as 18% were overcrowded according to the less strict Bedroom Standard used in Government Social Surveys.

The report calls on Government to adopt Wandsworth's standards, which state that every family should have a separate living room. It also says housing associations should prioritise the building of three and four-bedroom homes, and that councils should explore community land trusts and other ways of making affordable housing available to low-income families.

The Report details precise ways in which overcrowding undermines children's abilities to learn and do homework and says urgent action is needed to protect their futures.

The issue came to light after a primary school in membership of South London Citizens carried out a survey of the homes its children lived in. After a less-than-satisfactory response from the Council, South London Citizens created a DVD entitled a "Christmas message to Mr Roy Evans, director of housing at Wandsworth Council", which became a hit on YouTube. The children at St Mary's primary school in Battersea cheerfully explain that they still come to school in spite of being "a bit squashed", and appeal directly to Mr Evans to "fix it for them". "My best Christmas present ever would be a nice, cosy bedroom", says one, while others appeal for a place to do their homework.

The survey led to further overcrowding surveys carried out by the "citizens' panel" at two other Wandsworth primary schools, which revealed the same lack of space and damage to children's learning. The findings were shared with 15 council representatives in September.

Bernadette Farrell, lead organiser of South London Citizens, said it was important that local people and community institutions in Wandsworth worked together with the Council to find solutions. "This report is full or practical, achieveable solutions to the increasing problem of overcrowding, both short and long-term. We believe citizens are alternative experts on this issue. They live with the consequences of overcrowding in their daily lives, and know what the solutions are. It's time to listen and take action."

South London Citizens is calling for regular meetings with the Council to oversee the implementation of the report's recommendations.

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