How many children in the UK today are without a bed

24th May 2018

For most of us, having a bed of our own is simply a given. Finding ourselves in a situation where we would have to go without a proper bed in our own home would be unimaginable for many of us, but for thousands of the UK’s most vulnerable children, this is a daily reality.

In simple terms, Buttle UK helps children and young people by providing basic household items and white goods that most of us take for granted. In the last five years we have seen a 77% increase in the number of beds awarded to families where children would otherwise be going without.

Shockingly, in around a quarter of the 10,000+ families we helped last year, a child did not have a proper bed of their own to sleep in. Buttle UK provided 3,000 beds to these vulnerable children. If you apply this percentage to the number of children living in poverty in the UK then the number would be around 400,000. In a first world country, this is larger than the equivalent of all the people in a city the size of Cardiff without a proper place to sleep tonight

This means thousands of children are sleeping in broken, uncomfortable beds, sharing with parents or siblings, or in some cases on the floor.

When children share a bed, it can lead to a range of problems; not least that different sleeping patterns and the need to get up at different times means interrupted sleep for both children or carers alike, increasing the stress felt by the entire household. Children who do not get enough sleep can find concentration at school more difficult, impeding their learning or they may become more irritable, affecting their behaviour.

Children without their own bed can often feel embarrassed about having friends over to visit and play, leaving them feeling isolated in their developing years.

The reasons why children end up without a proper bed are many but here’s one example: some children with particular medical conditions regularly soil the bed, damaging bedding and mattresses. For a parent struggling with limited finances, these are difficult items to replace.  What then?

Sleep is such a basic part of a child or young person’s needs; as essential as shelter, stability, even food and nourishment. There is extensive research that shows the necessity of good, healthy sleep for brain development in children. Just because the effects of this are not immediately measurably obvious does not mean that they will not be extremely significant. Against a backdrop of dramatic increases in the number of children being referred for sleep problems and the associated cost to the NHS, research indicates that as little as one hour less sleep a night could impede a child’s academic performance by up to two years.  

Through our Chances for Children grants, we often find that not having a bed can be only one of many issues a child, young person or family is facing. For instance, in cases where a mother is being rehoused after fleeing domestic abuse, her new accommodation might be lacking in basic furnishings or appliances. Having no place to sleep may not be the only concern this family has, but the knock-on effects of this will be to the detriment of the whole family and will exacerbate the difficulties that the family are already experiencing.

Our Chances for Children grants are designed to focus on providing children and young people with a more positive future. In doing so, we need to consider the long-term cumulative effects of all the changes that have taken place over the past five years. To begin with, the economy has changed: one of the implications of this has been a big shift in those people classed as experiencing ‘in-work’ poverty - a rise of over 1 million since 2010/11. At the same time, there have been extensive changes to the welfare system and funding of public services.  The impact of this is wide ranging, from the freeze on child benefits and tax credits, to the reduction in scale of Local Welfare Provision Schemes, and the reduction in funding for women’s refuges.  

Government child poverty figures rose in 2014/15 for the first time in a decade and the figure now stands at more than 4 million – that's 30% of all children in the UK. Research predicts the figure will rise to over 5 million by 2020, and the effects of this will be felt for generations to come. In a recent joint survey between Child Poverty Action Group and the National Education Union, 87% of 900 teachers reported that poverty affected the learning of their students significantly, while 60% thought that the extent of poverty in their schools, and its effects, had worsened in the last three years.

That is why we have partnered our Chances for Children campaign with Dreams Beds and The Sun for the Beds for Kids campaign. As part of this, for every bed that is purchased at one of Dream’s 190+ stores across the UK, they will donate and deliver a bed, via our dedicated referral system, to a child or young person in need.

We are grateful to News UK and The Sun for their help in promoting this issue as well as the public figures who have come forward to help in raising awareness. You can join them in supporting the campaign here.

No child should have to grow up without a bed of their own. This campaign has the chance to make a significant impact to the lives of 3,000 children and young people across the country. 

The UK’s social safety net is fraying – so what now for the rest of the 400,000 without a proper bed?  Now is the time to start asking that question and that’s what Buttle UK will be doing of both national and local government. You can see how many children we estimate do not have a bed in your local area here. You can also take more immediate action by writing to your local MP about this, asking them if they know about this and what they intend to do about it. At the very least, we expect every Local Authority, whether they have prioritised the local welfare fund or not, to commit to ensuring that no child in their area will sleep one more night without a bed of their own. 

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