The new slums: 250,000 (including children) living in squalid rented homes

“A quarter of a million families bringing up babies and infants in England are living in privately rented accommodation that fails to meet the decent homes standard, it has emerged.

The number of households bringing up children aged under four in squalid conditions, which can include damp walls, broken heating and infestations of rats, has increased by an estimated 75,000 since 2007, according to analysis of official figures.

The study of England’s private rented sector says renters of all generations have been failed by successive governments. The number of rented homes has more than doubled since 2000, to 4.8m, as the construction of private and social housing has slowed dramatically since the financial crisis and hundreds of thousands of new landlords have entered the market seeking better investment returns amid low interest rates.

“It is scary for me to think we have a lot of families in these circumstances,” said Julie Rugg, a senior research fellow at the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy who co-authored the report. “There is a disproportionately high percentage of households with babies and infants living in the private rented sector and there is a particular concern for the longer-term health consequences of living in damp, mouldy property with poor thermal comfort.”

The problem conditions are not confined to young families. One in three homes at the lowest rents and one in five of the most expensive homes are classed as non-decent. In 2016/17, half of new households were private renters, twice the number who became owner–occupiers.

The Centre for Housing Policy also warned of a new kind of “slum tenure” at the bottom of the rental market spreading as a result of welfare cuts and the introduction of universal credit causing landlords to cut back on maintenance and allowing properties to fall into squalor.

The findings come amid growing pressure on the government to toughen regulation of private rentals, especially as more vulnerable people who would previously have been in social housing are relying on the sector.

Campaign groups including Shelter, which has described private rent as like the “wild west”, want the government to start making public its database of convicted rogue landlords and to insist on minimum three-year tenancies to give tenants greater leverage to challenge poor conditions. A new fitness for human habitation bill will mean tenants can take landlords to court with evidence that their homes are unfit.

“Declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting, particularly families with young children,” said Rugg. “Unfortunately, in its current form the private rental market isn’t providing a suitable alternative. We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role that private renting plays in our housing market.” …